Authors: Sara Rosett
MOVING IS MURDER
STAYING HOME IS A KILLER
GETTING AWAY IS DEADLY
To Mom and Dad,
who always believed I could do anything.
ow, if you’ll follow me, we’ll go down to the crypt,” the tour guide said.
I let our small group flow past me as I waited for my best friend, Abby Dovonowski, to catch up with me. “You know, if everything had gone according to my plan, right now Mitch and I would be lounging on a private beach on St. John, working on our tans. But instead, I’m about to tour a crypt. Kind of ironic, isn’t it?”
Abby pawed through her huge purse and didn’t look up as she said, “Why did you think things would go according to your plan?”
“You’re right. I forgot about Murphy’s Law as it applies to military spouses: ‘If you plan it, they will ruin it.’”
“Well, at lease we’ve got FROT,” Abby said as she unzipped a compartment inside her purse and dug around it.
“Yeah, where would we be without FROT?” I asked.
“At home in Vernon, Washington, where it’s raining. Again. For the record-breaking thirty-fifth day in a row. I checked the weather this morning.”
“I guess you’re right. I’ll take Washington, D.C.’s, humidity and sun along with FROT over rain and being at home.”
We shared a smile over the acronym of the class our husbands were taking. The military has to have an acronym for everything, so Foreign Reciprocity Officer Training was shortened to FROT. Originally, Mitch and I had planned to go on a Caribbean vacation after he returned from his Middle East deployment. I had the airline tickets, a room reserved at a secluded beachfront cottage, the grandparents lined up to watch our daughter, Livvy, and a reservation at a kennel for our dog, Rex, where he’d be so fawned over and catered to that he probably wouldn’t even miss us.
Then Mitch returned from his deployment and learned in his absence he’d been “volunteered” to attend a weeklong training school. Mitch could have begged and pleaded and tried to get out of it, but since his squadron commander had handpicked Mitch to attend the school, he felt like he had to go. The fact that he’d forgotten to turn in his leave paperwork had an impact on the decision, too.
So what was I going to do? Cancel each carefully planned detail? Nope. I exchanged my airline tickets and mentally kissed my days at the beach good-bye. The only redeeming thing about the whole vacation switch—besides the fact the military was picking up the tab for the hotel room—was that Abby’s husband, Jeff, had been picked to be the alternate to the FROT program and he had to attend as well. Since the trip fell during Abby’s spring break from teaching third grade, she’d promptly made airline reservations, too.
Abby repositioned her purse on her shoulder. “Do you have anything to eat? You’ve always got chocolate. I’m starving.”
“Of course I’ve got chocolate, but we can’t eat in the Capitol!” I whispered back as we navigated around another clump of people with their heads tilted back to gaze at the dome mural. I always had Hershey’s Kisses. I was addicted to them.
“Abby, this is the
. We can’t eat in here.” The chamber echoed with the voices of the guides and the shuffle of feet as tourists made their way around the circular room, studying the oil paintings.
“I’m starving,” Abby repeated. “I have to eat. I’m pregnant. It’s my right.”
After struggling for months, Abby was finally pregnant and she was playing it for all it was worth. It was a bit different for me, even though I was pregnant, too. Life with a preschooler tended to make everything else fade into the background. Sometimes I’d gotten so wrapped up in parenting Livvy, our almost two-year-old, that I’d actually forgotten I was pregnant again. Well, except for the nausea. That’s hard to ignore, but, thankfully, that stage seemed to be over. I rubbed my slightly protruding belly. I hoped this mini-vacation would help me tune into my pregnancy. I felt a tad guilty that I didn’t think about our little Nathan more. Abby looked at my purse with a longing expression. “Come on. Why can’t we eat in here?”
“The sense of history. The artwork.” I nodded at the center of the Rotunda as we walked. “Presidents lie in state here. It would be disrespectful.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Abby conceded.
As we reached the lower level of the Capitol, Abby and I merged back with our sightseeing group made up of several Air Force wives from different bases whose husbands were also in Washington, D.C., for FROT training.
Our guide said, “Forty Doric columns of brown sandstone support the Rotunda directly above this room. Does anyone know what the star at the center of the floor represents?”
The gaze of our Capitol tour guide, a young woman in her early twenties, roved over our group, as she tried to avoid making eye contact with the petite, dark-headed woman planted directly in front of her. The rest of us were clueless, so our guide said, “Nadia, I bet you know. You’ve known everything else.”
“Oh, I do.” Nadia bounced with excitement and her dark hair bobbed against her cheekbones. “It’s the exact center of Washington, D.C.” Her Capitol brochure crumpled as she squeezed it. “The very heart of Pierre L’Enfant’s grand plan. The diagonals that divide the city into quadrants originate from
Our guide gave a perfunctory smile. “That’s correct. As you can see, there aren’t any tombs in this crypt and it has never been used as a burial chamber. It was intended to be the final resting place for George Washington, but his family buried him at Mount Vernon instead. Today, the space is used for exhibits. Feel free to take your time looking around. This concludes the tour. I’ll leave you to explore.” She gave us directions on how to exit the Capitol and we dispersed around the room.
Nadia headed to the gift shop, which was really just a few glass display cabinets stocked with postcards and touristy items set up on one side of the room. Abby and I set off on a slow circuit of the room. I loved reading the small print inside the exhibit cases. Abby indulged me until another member of our group, Irene, joined us. She pushed her subtly highlighted blond bangs off her forehead and checked her watch. “Shouldn’t we be going? Where is everyone?” Irene had taken on the roll of den mother. Abby and I knew Irene because she and her husband, Grant, had been stationed at the same base as Abby and I, at Greenly in Washington State, until a few months ago when Grant got a new assignment to Alaska.
Irene shoved a plastic bag of postcards and souvenir books into her massive tote bag, which was emblazoned with a flag and the words
Military spouse: the toughest job you’ll ever love.
She pulled the lapels of her black wash-and-wear travel blazer together over her busty figure and looked around the room. “Nadia’s in line to check out and there’s Gina, leaning on a pillar.” Irene checked her watch again. “I’ll go round everyone up. Don’t you think Wellesley will be waiting for us outside by the reflecting pool by now?”
Wellesley Warner was our tour guide for the D.C. area. She’d handed us off at the Capitol to their expert guides and told us where to meet her when the tour was over. Some companies had tour programs for spouses who accompanied their significant others to conferences and training programs. Not the military. An expense like that would be an easy target for complaints about waste, fraud, and abuse. Can’t have our tax dollars going to entertain the wives, so our group had pooled our money and hired Wellesley, the owner of Inside Look Tours, a “boutique” tour company specializing in small tour groups for people who didn’t want to spend their time on a bus, lumbering from one site to another.
Irene bustled everyone together and we emerged from the Capitol on the west side. We paused at the balustrade to take in the view down the Mall, the grassy open space lined on each side with the Smithsonian museums. Straight ahead, the Washington Monument rose vibrantly white against the blue sky. I knew from studying the map earlier in the day that the Lincoln Memorial was directly beyond the Washington Monument. “I love the symmetry of this place,” I said.
Abby snorted. “You would. You like everything lined up in a row. Neat and squared away.”
Gina Trovato was on the other side of me. Abby noticed her puzzled look and leaned over to explain. “Ellie’s a professional organizer. She helps people get things in order. Her business is called Everything In Its Place.”
Gina smiled. “Too bad we aren’t at the same base. You could experiment on me since I’m chronically unorganized. If you could help me, you could help anyone.” She turned back to the view and said, “It is awesome, though. Even someone as messy as I am can appreciate good lines when I see them.”
“What do you do? You’re in Oregon, right?” I asked.
“I’m a social worker at a hospital in Portland.” Gina leaned her bony arms on the balustrade. She looked a bit like she’d been run through a wringer and had all the color and contour squeezed out of her body. She was tall and flat-chested with gray eyes, pale skin, and long straight hair that was somewhere between a washed-out blond and a dingy brown. The only exception to the linear lines of her body was her slightly upturned nose.
“We’re not that far away from you. We’re at Vernon in eastern Washington State. At least for now,” I said.
Gina turned toward me. “Due for a move?”
“Yes. Well, not for the next six months or so, but we should be hearing pretty soon. We’ve turned in the dream sheet and now we’re waiting.”
“Dream sheet. That’s an accurate name, if there ever was one,” Gina said with a laugh. A dream sheet was a form on which Mitch listed the bases where he’d like to be stationed. It was called a dream sheet because that was what it was: basically, a dream. The Air Force pretty much sent you where they wanted you. If it happened to coincide with your dream sheet, you were lucky.
Gina continued, “Not that you’re going to get it, but what did you put down as your first choice?”
“Hawaii. We know it’s a long shot, but after the winters in Washington State we’re ready for sunshine. Of course, we’ll probably get one of the other bases down the list, like the one in Kansas or Georgia. Abby and her husband are up, too. We’re hoping we’ll get the same base again.”
“Okay, everyone,” a loud, perky voice rang out. “Time for a snappy.”
“Not another picture,” Gina muttered. “She’s got to have taken at least fifty already.”
Nadia must have sensed a mutiny brewing because she said, “Come on, just one more. Last group picture of the day, I promise. I just have to have this for my scrapbook.”
“All right, then let’s get it over with,” Gina said. We all swung around with our backs to the view and Nadia recruited another tourist to take our picture. We squished together and grimaced.
“Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Nadia asked as we went down the steps to the Mall.
I heard Gina mutter, “Not if it shuts you up.”
We made our way down to the Capitol Reflecting Pool through the beautifully landscaped grounds. I wondered how much money was spent on maintaining the grounds. Did it rival the defense budget?
“Where is Wellesley?” Irene asked, scanning the clumps of people gathered around the pool. Abby plopped down on a low wall and I joined her. I pulled some energy bars and several Hershey’s Kisses out of my Coach backpack purse and handed them to Abby.
“Ah. Nourishment.” She ripped open the bar and downed it in three bites. I offered a bar to Gina, but she shook her head. Abby crumpled the wrapper and said, “You have to teach me all this mom stuff, like carrying food in your purse. I’m going to be so toast as a mom.”
“You’re going to do fine,” I said and pulled out my cell phone. I’d turned it off during the tour.
Two messages. The first one was from my parents’ phone number. They were taking care of Livvy during my week away with Mitch. I punched the numbers for voice mail and I tensed, waiting to hear Livvy crying. To put it mildly, she’d had some issues with separation anxiety. I’d even debated canceling my trip several times. My mom’s voice came on the line. “Hi, honey.”
No sounds of screaming in the background. I relaxed a little.
My mom said, “Sorry we missed your call. We were in the backyard. Livvy loves the sandbox. She’s doing great. We’re having a wonderful time. Don’t try to call us back for a while. We’re going to the mall and the toy store. Bye.” Okay. No crying. That was good. Wasn’t it? I had a hard time believing Livvy wasn’t in the throes of separation anxiety, but my mom wouldn’t lie to me.
Would she? No. Of course not.
I just hoped all Livvy’s new toys and clothes would fit in our suitcases for our flight back to Vernon.
I checked our little group. Irene paced to the edge of the Reflecting Pool and scanned the Mall for Wellesley. Abby and Gina were talking and Nadia was busy snapping pictures of the Capitol dome. A noisy group of teenagers swarmed around the pool. Their matching green T-shirts proclaimed they were from Crocket Middle School. We were engulfed in a chattering, giggling, hormone-energized crowd.
My next voice mail message came on the line and I heard my sister-in-law’s breezy voice. “Hi, Ellie! Great to hear you guys are in town. Give me a call back and we’ll get together. I know you said you had a free afternoon today, but I can’t get away. I’m babysitting the Little Terror. She’s sleeping now, thank goodness, but call me later.”
Abby saw me close my phone. “So, did you hear from your sister-in-law? Are you getting together with her this afternoon?”
“Yes. That was Summer, but she’s babysitting for her landlady.”
Abby’s eyebrows crinkled down into a frown. “Isn’t she a little old to be babysitting?”
I smiled. “Not if you’re babysitting for your landlord, who happens to be a high-powered Washington lobbyist. Summer figures it can’t hurt her chances of getting a job once she graduates in May.” Of course, that was assuming that Summer actually graduated.
Mitch’s youngest sister was as flighty as a hummingbird and changed majors as fast as some teens changed their shoes. I was amazed that her hodgepodge of college credits was going to add up to a degree in political science. Even with her short-lived detour to beauty school a few months ago, she’d pulled everything together this spring and was about to get her degree.