N Is For Noose Page 51


I peered through the window in Henry's back door while I rapped on the glass. Lights were on and there was evidence he was in the midst of a cooking project. For many years, Henry Pitts earned his living as a commercial baker and now that he's retired, he still loves to cook. He's lean-faced, tanned, and long-legged, a gent with snowy white hair, blue eyes, a beaky nose, and all of his own teeth. At eighty-six, he's blessed with intelligence, high spirits, and prodigious energy. He came into the kitchen from the hallway carrying a stack of the small white terrycloth towels he uses when he cooks. He usually has one tucked in his belt, another resting on his shoulder, and a third that occasionally serves as an oven mitt. He was wearing a navy T-shirt and white shorts, covered by a big baker's apron that extended past his knees. He set the towels on the counter and hurried to unlock the door, his face wreathed in smiles.

’’Well, Kinsey. I didn't expect you back today. Come on in. What happened to your hand?’’

’’Long story. In a minute, I'll give you the abbreviated version.’’

He stepped aside and I entered, giving him a hug as I passed. On the counter I could see a tall Mason jar of flour, a shorter jar of sugar, two sticks of butter, a tin of baking powder, a carton of eggs, and a bowl of Granny Smith apples;pie tin, rolling pin, grater.

’’Something smells wonderful. What's cooking?’’

Henry smiled. ’’A surprise for Rosie's birthday. I've got a noodle pudding in the oven. This is a Hungarian dish I hope you won't ask me to pronounce. I'm also making her a Hungarian apple pie.’’

’’Which birthday?’’

’’She won't say. Last I heard, she was claiming sixty-six, but I think she's been shaving points for years. She has to be seventy. You'll be joining us, I hope.’’

’’I wouldn't miss it,’’ I said. ’’I'll have to sneak out and find a gift. What time?’’

’’I'm not going over 'til six. Sit, sit, sit and I'll fix a pot of tea.’’

He settled me in his rocking chair and put the kettle on for tea while we filled each other in on events during the weeks I'd been gone. In no particular order, we went through the usual exchange of information: the trip, Dietz's surgery, news from the home front. I laid out the job as succinctly as I could, including the nature of the investigation, the players, and the attack the night before, a process that allowed me to listen to myself. ’’I have a couple of leads to check. Apparently, Tom was in touch with a local sheriff's investigator, though, at this point, I'm not sure if the contact was personal or professional. The way I heard it, they had their heads bent together and the woman's manner was noticeably flirtatious. Strictly rumor, of course, but it's worth looking into.’’

’’And if that doesn't pan out?’’

’’Then I'm stumped.’’

While I finished my tea, Henry put together the pie crust and began to peel and grate apples for the filling. I washed my cup and saucer and set them in his dish rack. ’’I better whiz out and find a present. Are you dressing for the party?’’

’’I'm wearing long pants,’’ he said. ’’I may rustle up a sports coat. You look fine as you are.’’

As it turned out, Rosie's entire restaurant had been given over to her birthday party. This tacky neighborhood tavern has always been my favorite. In the olden days (five years ago), it was often empty except for a couple of local drunks who showed up daily when it opened and generally had to be carried home. In the past few years, for reasons unknown, the place has become a hangout for various sports teams whose trophies now grace every available surface. Rosie, never famous for her good humor, has nonetheless tolerated this band of testosterone-intoxicated rowdies with unusual restraint. That night, the ruffians were out in full force and in the spirit of the occasion had decorated the restaurant with crepe paper streamers, helium balloons, and hand-lettered banners that read WAY TO GO ROSIE! There was a huge bouquet of flowers, a keg of bad beer, a stack of pizza boxes, and an enormous birthday cake. Cigarette smoke filled the air, lending the room the soft, hazy glow of an old tintype. The sportsers had seeded the jukebox with high-decibel hits from the 1960s and they'd pushed all the tables back so they could do the twist and the Watusi. Rosie looked on with an indulgent smile. Someone had given her a coneshaped hat covered with glitter, a strand of elastic under her chin, and a feather sticking out the top. She wore the usual muumuu, this one hot pink with a three-inch ruffle around the low-cut neck. William looked dapper in a dark three-piece suit, white dress shirt, and a navy tie with red polka dots, but there was no sign of anyone else from the neighborhood. Henry and I sat to one side he in jeans and a denim sports coat, I in jeans and my good tweed blazer-like spectators at a dance contest. I'd spent the better part of an hour at a department store downtown, finally selecting a red silk chemise I thought would tickle her fancy.


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