Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death (15 page)

BOOK: Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death
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31

We left Mrs. Bissela after a few more minutes and returned to the lobby. There we told the receptionist at the front desk—I think this was Marilyn, who works in the afternoons
—where we were going, and we signed out so no one would think we had wandered off absentmindedly and disappeared. (Believe me, it happens!) She telephoned the taxi company, and it was only about five minutes before a taxi arrived for us at the front door. Business must be slow on Thursdays. The taxi was bright yellow with a checkered stripe along the side, and on the door it said “Midtown Yellow Cab.” It could have used a washing, but it seemed to have all of its necessary parts. Mrs. K wrote the address on a slip of paper and handed it to the driver. He nodded and opened the back door for us.

It is a small but important benefit of being our age that we can ride in taxis for half price with the pink vouchers that are handed out at the Home. When I was younger I never rode in a taxi, as it was a luxury we couldn't afford. So now when the driver held the door open for me, I remembered how it used to be and I felt very hoity-toity!

The driver was not one to inspire confidence in his passengers. In fact, he was looking extremely
shlumpy:
He needed a shave and his uniform looked like he had been sleeping in it, which perhaps he was doing before we called. But we couldn't be choosy, and besides, it is how one drives that counts, not how one looks. (Still, his
shlumpy
ness did lessen my hoity-toity feeling just a
bissel.)

On the way, Mrs. K and I did not say much to each other. She had her eyes closed but I knew she was not asleep, just thinking. I was wondering how she intended to get Molly to help Doreen, and that is probably what she was wondering too.

At one point I asked her, “Do you think Molly will be willing to help us, or will she only defend her son?”

She looked up and said nothing for a moment, as I must have interrupted her thoughts, but finally she answered, “I suppose that depends on what is the relationship between them. Does she recognize Eddie for who he is, or only for who she wishes he would be?” She again closed her eyes.

I was not so deep in thought, so I was looking out the window and seeing where we were going. The driver apparently was not doing the same, because he was going very fast and just missed hitting a bus, a dog, and two old ladies in a crosswalk. I was at this point wishing Andy was driving the taxi and wondering whether we would make it to Molly's house alive. Are all taxi drivers in such a hurry?

To get to Molly's house we had to go through a rough-looking neighborhood, and at first I was afraid we would find Molly's house there. It would not have been a good place to get out of the car. But fortunately we kept driving and finally came out into a neighborhood that I did not recognize. It looked as if most of the houses had been built only recently. In fact, many of them looked like they were not built at all, but that thing they do with the sheep—“clo
ned,” I think it is called—because they all looked exactly the same. I will bet a person living there would have a hard time finding his house if he should forget the address. Anyway, Molly was not there either.

Soon we were in another, slightly older neighborhood, but still quite respectable. We passed several clusters of houses, each with a name like “Sunny Heights” (although they were on level ground) and “Laurel Woods” (although I saw no woods in the area, laurel or otherwise). Finally, the taxi turned into what you would call a “gated community.” That is because there was supposed to be a gate across the entrance, I assume to keep out the riffraff. But since the gate was wide open, the riffraff was free to enter, and we drove in as well.

This community was named “The Pines,” and indeed there were small pine trees in front of every house. With this I was impressed. All of the pine trees were about eight or ten feet high. I wondered how they would get along with each other when they were ten times that height; but I suppose the present occupants of the houses did not need to worry about that, at least for many years.

The taxi stopped in front of number 238, which I assumed was Molly's house. It was a nice enough house, painted yellow with brown trim, a bit faded. In the front there was a white picket fence surrounding a small lawn (and a pine tree, of course), and between the house and the lawn were a few clumps of flowers. It did not look as if anyone was taking too much trouble with it; just enough to keep things neat.

Mrs. K paid the taxi driver and told him not to wait. I am sure from the way he drives that he does not like to wait for anything or anyone, from stop lights to passengers. Then she and I went through the gate in the fence and walked up the few steps to the front door. The mat on the top step said “Welcome,” and I was hoping it was being sincere.

Mrs. K knocked several times rapidly on the door. I don't know why she didn't use the doorbell that was just to the left of the door; perhaps she did not see it. There was no response and after maybe half a minute, Mrs. K started to knock again. Just then the door was thrown open and she pulled her hand back just in time to avoid striking Molly Christensen directly on the nose. For it was indeed she who opened the door, out of breath as if she had been running up or down stairs to reach the door. And as I could see a stairway just behind her in the foyer, this was probably what had happened.

Molly is about sixty years old, give or take. She had gained some weight in the five or so years since we last had seen her, but then who has not? She was dressed in a red housecoat that looked almost new, with pretty matching red slippers. Her hair was pushed up in a bun, just like I remembered it when she was working at the Home.

She greeted us cheerfully. “Well, well. It's good to see you ladies after all this time. Please come in.” She stepped aside so we could enter.

“It is good to see you also,” said Mrs. K, and I nodded in agreement. We went through to the living room, past the stairway that Molly must have run down to answer the door. I think I heard someone upstairs close a door, but I could have been mistaken. She gestured for us to sit down on the sofa, which was powder blue, as was the carpet. In fact, there was quite a bit of powder blue in the room, no doubt a color Molly is particularly fond of. Personally I can take it or leave it.

Molly excused herself and went out to the kitchen. Soon she returned with cold drinks on a tray and some cookies on a plate. She served us each a drink, which turned out to be lemonade, one of my favorites, and passed the plate of cookies. Coconut.
Nu,
so one out of two is not so bad.

We spent a few minutes discussing the years when Molly was working at the Home. It turned out Mrs. K was correct about Molly winning the lottery, except she had won closer to two hundred fifty thousand dollars than the one hundred thousand Mrs. K recalled.

“Whatever did you do with so much money?” I exclaimed, before I realized that it was not polite to ask such a question.

I started to apologize, but Molly waved it away and said, “Oh, I don't mind telling you. I got some really good advice from a man my late husband knew who is in the business of investing other people's money for them. I put most of the money into the investments he suggested, and they have done very well, almost doubling in the last five years. I also had some money saved up, mostly from the insurance policy when my husband passed away, and I invested that also. Now I am able to live off of the income if I am careful what I spend.”

“You worked hard all your life,” said Mrs. K, “and you certainly deserve to have a comfortable retirement.
Zie ga zink!
May you enjoy it in good health.”

Molly looked pleased and said, “Thank you, Mrs. Kaplan.”

“Rose, please.”

“Rose. But what is it you wanted to see me about? You haven't come all the way out here just to talk about me.”

“No, you are quite right,” said Mrs. K. “In fact, we want to talk to you about your son, Eddie.” Mrs. K does not believe in beating around the bush.

Now Molly no longer looked so pleased, and the smile suddenly was gone. But she said quite politely, “My son, Eddie? I don't understand. I didn't know you even knew him.”

“We don't really,” Mrs. K replied, “but we did meet him, in a way, recently. And I am sure we met him many years ago when he came to pick you up at the Home a few times.”

“I see,” Molly said. “But what about Eddie could you want to discuss?” She sounded wary, as if she didn't know whether she wanted to discuss her son with us and was waiting for more details before deciding.

Mrs. K explained briefly about Doreen. “She is a very innocent young woman,” she said, “and Eddie is, shall we say, not the kind of man she should be marrying, or even living with, at this stage of her life.”

I looked at Molly's eyes, trying to read whether she was going to act as the mother bear defending her cub from attack. They did not give away what she was thinking, however. She asked Mrs. K, “Why do you think so? If you don't even know Eddie…”

“We do not know him, but we know a lot about him.” And she related our meeting with Eddie at the Emporium.

Molly listened, still with that fixed expression that did not reveal her feelings, and then said, “Yes, well, I know that Eddie certainly could use some manners, and I'm certainly sorry about his rudeness to you. Mind you, he has always been attentive and respectful to me, especially since his father died—in fact, he still is. And I tried to teach him as best I could, but with working every day and no father around…”

As my beloved mother used to say, “Parents can give their children everything but common sense.”

Molly now was becoming somewhat agitated. She took out a tissue from her pocket and blew her nose. “But I still don't see why you are telling me this. I know Eddie is a little rough around the edges. But he is a grown man and I cannot be responsible for his bad manners.” She looked to both of us, as if seeking our agreement that she was not responsible. She was looking unhappy now, and I was sorry that we were the reason.

Mrs. K said, in a sympathetic tone that I am certain was genuine, “I am afraid it is more than bad manners.” And she proceeded to tell Molly what she had learned from the police, leaving out, of course, how she learned it. Molly looked even more unhappy as the telling continued, especially when Mrs. K came to the parts about Eddie being already married and having ties to bad people, maybe mobsters.

Seeing Molly's evident distress, Mrs. K asked her, “Did you not already know this?”

Molly shook her head slowly, saying, “Not all of it. I knew he got married a couple of years ago, but he told me they had separated. I guess I assumed that by now they were divorced. And perhaps they are.”

“Let us hope so,” Mrs. K said.

“I also knew he's had some scrapes with the law. I had to arrange for bail for him a couple of times, in fact. But I didn't know what serious trouble he's in.”

“I am not surprised,” Mrs. K said, “as he would not be likely to tell you about it. But I have a reason for telling you. We may together be able to make things better for both Doreen and Eddie.”

Molly looked up at Mrs. K. “What do you mean? I don't see what good can come of any of this.”

“I mean that what is good for Doreen is to be rid of Eddie, as he is not at all the kind of man she should begin her life with. But she is young and unsophisti
cated, and while Eddie is flattering her with attention, she will not leave him. And what Eddie needs is to stay out of prison, and to stay away from the big-time criminals he has been flirting with. But he is foolish and has learned bad ways, and he will not of his own accord change them. Do you agree?”

BOOK: Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death
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