Authors: Sharon Love Cook
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Newspaper Reporter - Massachusetts
“We had a fight,” she said. “Tiny learned that Judy may need back surgery following rehab. That means Jonah will be with us indefinitely. In that case, why not drop the custody fight, I said. Why go through the aggravation and expense?”
“What did he say?”
She shrugged. “He won’t discuss it with me.”
“How long will Judy be recuperating?”
“They don’t know because it’s complicated. If she has surgery, she’ll be given pain medication afterward. In other words, the very thing she got addicted to. In that case, more rehab could likely follow back surgery.”
“How long are they talking about?”
“Her therapist wants her to transfer to a halfway house after rehab, since Jonah’s staying with us.”
“Maybe rehab will straighten her out,” I said.
Kevin piped up. “After college, I once had a roommate who put vodka in his morning orange juice. He went into rehab. They’re still waiting for him to get out.”
“Kevin, that was years ago,” I said, stepping down on the toe of his shoe.
“Ouch! Listen Betty Ann, look at it this way. If Jonah is as bad as you say he is, Tiny may voluntarily drop the custody business.”
B.A. shook her head, looking grim. “Tiny is committed. He’s been to see Spencer Farley about representing him.” Her voice shook. “Here I am trying to give up smoking, and he won’t even discuss the suit with me. Everything is done behind my back. He even visited Jonah’s teachers alone. They said his grades are the worst in the class. All this makes Tiny feels guilty for not stepping in earlier. He blames himself for Jonah’s problems.”
Kevin whistled. “Sounds like you’re in the shit can.”
I turned on him. “Kevin Healey, that’s not being helpful. Betty Ann needs our support now. She’s going through a rough time.”
He looked contrite. “I’m sorry. Don’t listen to me, Betty Ann. What do I know about kids? Maybe after you and Jonah get to know each other, he’ll think of you as the mother he never had.”
B.A. groaned. “Cut the crap, Kevin. You’re right, I am in the shit can. I married Tiny for better or for worse but not for Jonah. If my husband doesn’t care that the custody issue is destroying his marriage, I have to rethink our relationship.” Having said that, she lowered her head and sobbed.
Thus, when Tiny arrived he found Kevin and I with our arms wrapped protectively around B.A.. “Can I join the lovefest?” he asked.
“No, we’re comforting your wife,” Kevin said, as primly as a schoolmarm. If I hadn’t been hugging Betty Ann, I’d have given him a big wet kiss.
Tiny stuck his hands in his pockets. “Okay, any time you’re ready to go inside.”
Betty Ann produced a tissue and blew her nose. “I’m ready now. Thanks, Kevin and Rose. You’re the best.”
Tiny skipped ahead and held the door for us. “What about me, honey?” he asked Betty Ann as she approached. Silently, her chin raised, she passed him. I followed, averting my eyes. Kevin brought up the rear. Before scooting inside, he gave Tiny a shrug.
Walter, The Sacred Cod’s manager, greeted us. “We’ll take a booth in the bar,” Betty Ann said. At that hour the dining room was busy and the bar quiet. Walter led the way, stopping at a high wooden booth whose window overlooked the harbor. After distributing menus, he mentioned that night’s special, Finnan Haddie.
I sat next to B.A. Tiny and Kevin were across from us. As we studied the menu, Kevin broke the silence: “What in heck is Finnan Haddie, anyway?”
“It’s a Scandinavian creamed fish dish,” Tiny said, “that looks like crap.”
We mulled our choices as a waitress arrived to take our drink order. When it was his turn, Kevin requested a Beefeater martini with two olives. “It’s your liver,” Tiny muttered.
His remark was not lost on Betty Ann. “Have ten martinis, if that’s what you want, Kevin. Ignore the Eagle Scout over there. Just because he’s cleaned up his act he expects everybody to do the same.”
“If you’re referring to the custody case, honey, I’m only doing what my lawyer advised,” Tiny said. “Judy’s lawyer will do anything to discredit me.” He gave her a hurt look. “I was hoping you’d be more supportive.”
“At the moment Judy is wearing paper slippers at a detox. How can her lawyer justify that?”
“You don’t understand how the courts operate. People who attempt to turn their lives around are goddamn saints, regardless of their former record.”
Betty Ann turned to Kevin. “Judy is a drug addict, yet I have to prove myself by quitting smoking for his damn custody case.”
Tiny leaned forward. “Not just for that reason. I want you to do it for your health as well. Remember, I didn’t invent the law, the court did. They won’t place a child where he’s exposed to cigarette smoke. It’s considered abuse.”
“Give me a break,” Betty Ann said, slapping the table with her palm. “Do you mean a mother who murders guinea pigs is preferable to a smoker?”
“Murders what?” Kevin asked.
“Cut the drama, Betty Ann,” Tiny said. “Judy might be an air head, but she’s not cruel. She didn’t do it on purpose.”
“What didn’t she do?” Kevin said, even though I kicked him under the table.
Tiny ran a hand through his short, bristly hair. “One night Judy had a few too many and decided to give the guinea pig a bath. It slipped out of her hands and somehow got outside. She claims she searched for hours in the snow. She even called 911. She never found it. Unfortunately, it was Jonah’s classroom’s guinea pig.”
“She called 911 for a guinea pig?” Kevin asked.
Tiny nodded. “My ex-wife might be a technical wizard, but when it comes to common sense she doesn’t have two brain cells to rub together. That’s why I want Jonah with us. I can’t undo the past, but I can try making it up to him.”
“Mea culpa,” Betty Ann whispered, tapping her chest.
Fortunately, at that moment the waiter arrived with our drinks. After we were served, I raised my glass. “I’d like to make a toast to Tiny and Betty Ann. May their problems be solvable. They deserve it.”
When the toastees showed little interest in responding, Kevin piped up, “You got that right.”
Dinner progressed mostly in silence as Betty Ann and I focused on our scallop plates and Kevin on his fried clams. Tiny, dousing his meat loaf and mashed potatoes in gravy, said nothing. I was caught off guard when he suddenly spoke. “Rusty, how ya doing?”
I looked up to see Rusty Favazza, his long hair hanging in his eyes, leaning against our booth. He nodded at me. “I see you’re still robbing the cradle, Rose.” Before I could respond, he waved a hand. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to join you.”
“We didn’t ask,” Tiny said. At that, Rusty laughed, causing him to lurch forward. He grabbed the edge of our table, which spilled our drinks. Tiny stood up. “Okay, time to go. I’m getting Walter to call a cab.”
“Don’t bother, I’m leaving,” Rusty said. He straightened and took a last look around the room. Something caught his attention because all at once his posture changed. He slouched and said in a voice that could be heard all over the restaurant, “Look who’s slumming tonight. What’s the matter, The Four Seasons closed?”
Along with everyone in the place, we turned to see who he was addressing. A grim-looking Spencer and Martha Farley stood at the bar’s entrance. Behind them stood Granite Cove Bank’s president, Sanford “Sandy” Singleton and wife Bitsy. Both couples wore tennis outfits. Martha’s white pleated skirt peeked out from under a long navy cardigan. Her legs looked as sturdy as they had in high school when she was girls’ field hockey captain.
Now she nudged Spencer. In his path stood his tormentor. He moved forward, shoulders squared like a gladiator going into the arena. Behind the Farleys the Singletons cowered like scared rabbits. The room became quiet. All eyes were on Rusty, leaning against the booth and grinning.
Turning to me he said in the same mocking voice, “Did Spencer ever talk about his friendship with Vivian?”
I gasped involuntarily. At the same time Spencer was finally nose-to-nose with Rusty. “You’re drunk,” he said, his voice flat.
“Don’t talk to him!” Martha hissed.
While we waited for Rusty’s response, Tiny got to his feet. In a split second he was out of the booth and at Rusty’s side. “I’ll show you to the door,” he said, grabbing Rusty’s arm.
Before Tiny could escort Rusty out, Walter appeared, pushing his way through the crowd that had materialized at the first hint of trouble. “What’s the problem?” Walter said, sizing up the situation. “Show’s over, folks,” he announced. “Mr. Favazza is going home.” With that, he dragged an unprotesting Rusty away.
When Tiny sat down, Kevin raised his glass. “Nice going, captain.”
Tiny shrugged. “I deal with drunks all the time. Part of the job.”
Betty Ann gazed at him like a lovestruck teen and reached for his hand. “Honey, you were wonderful. I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t stepped in.”
In response he leaned across the table and gave her a long kiss. It was interrupted by a clap of thunder that shook the room, causing several diners to shriek. Outside, lightening flashed, illuminating the harbor. Inside, the candles flickered in a rising wind that battered the panes. I shivered and pulled my sweater around me.
It looked like we were in for some stormy weather.
Dear Auntie Pearl:
I’m an adult student enrolled in the evening division of our local college. This semester I developed a huge crush on my distinguished looking literature professor. After our last class, I invited him out for a drink.
One thing led to another, and he ended up spending the night. The next morning I found his argyle vest under a sofa cushion. Since then, I’ve e-mailed him and left messages on his voice mail. Yet he doesn’t respond. This is no schoolgirl’s infatuation, Auntie Pearl. I think I’m in love with the man. What should I do?
Poe no mo’
You didn’t mention whether the vest was wool or cashmere. It makes a difference. Cashmere can be dressed up with a silk blouse and pearls, but wool is a more casual look. Worn with a flannel skirt or tailored slacks and low-heeled pumps, you have a stylish, professional looking outfit.
When Betty Ann and Tiny dropped me off, I sensed something was amiss the minute I got out of their car. Walking up the driveway, I soon discovered the source of my unease. The Jetta’s rear window sported a hole the size of a cantaloupe.
I opened the door. In the back seat the contents of my basket that held coupons, parking tickets, Kleenex, dog biscuits and old lipstick were scattered about. On the left floor mat was a rock wrapped in paper and secured with an elastic band. I unwrapped it with shaking hands. Written in block letters were the words STAY AWAY IF YOU VALU YOUR LIFE.
Five minutes after my frantic phone call to Cal, I heard the squeal of tires in the driveway. When I went outside, Cal was aiming a high-beam flashlight all over my car. With no word of greeting, he said, “Did you ask your neighbors if they heard anything?”
“I don’t know them. They’re young guys, and when they’re at home, they’ve got the stereo cranked.”
“Neighbors should be notified regarding acts of vandalism.”
“For your information it is not vandalism, it’s… personal.”
He moved the flashlight beam to my face. “What do you mean?”
“I read the note.”
“The one wrapped around the rock that broke my car window.”
“Where might that be?”
“On my kitchen table.”
“You touched it?”
“Cal, how could I read it without touching it?”
He turned the flashlight off with a sigh. “Let’s have a look.”
In the kitchen I heated up the morning’s coffee while Cal, wearing latex gloves, deposited the evidence into a plastic bag. “We’ll see what the lab can make of it. No doubt your fingerprints are all over it.”
“I’m sorry. I was in a state of shock. I came home and discovered my car was a victim of violence. Reading the note was a reflex.” I poured two mugs of coffee and brought them to the table. Underneath, Chester slept on.
Cal eyed him critically. “I don’t think he offers much protection. I’ll bet he never even barked tonight.”
“Chester’s a great watchdog,” I said, “when he’s awake.”
Cal sat back, crossed his arms over his chest and stared at me. “What do you plan to do?”
“About the fact that someone’s made threats. It’s a felony, by the way. Any known enemies?”
“Well, there’s Mayor Froggett. I’ve been on his case ever since he bought that SUV from Buster Moles.”
“It’s not the mayor’s style to creep around at night breaking car windows.”
“What about Buster, his brother-in-law? What’s his style?”
“Buster wouldn’t break windows. He’d steal the car and chop it up for parts.”
“Okay, that rules them out. Hmm, lately I’ve been interviewing people about the murder. I wonder if it has anything to do with that.”
Cal looked stricken. “Rosie, you’re a great girl, but you walk into situations with your eyes closed. What about the lowlife you’ve been associating with?”
“Who are you calling lowlife?”
Cal set his mug on the table and looked at me. “I’m talking about Rusty Favazza, for one. The other night you were drinking outside his house for at least an hour.”
My face flushed. “I wasn’t drinking. Well, maybe I had a sip or two in order to appear companionable. How do you know that, Cal Devine? Are you spying on me?”
“Not you, honey, him. Rusty’s a former drug dealer, an ex-con. You’re keeping bad company, and I’m worried about you.”
“Don’t worry, I know Rusty. I trust him. Sure, he looks scruffy, and he drinks too much, but he’s no murderer.”
“Have you looked at his rap sheet? You’re a babe in the woods when it comes to guys like Rusty Favazza.”
“I’ve known him since high school. He’s had some bad breaks, but he’s trying to stay clean.”
“I’ve known him since high school, too. Remember, we were on the football team together. Back then he was using amphetamines, steroids, pot.”