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Authors: Gillian Roberts

Tags: #Mystery

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BOOK: The Bluest Blood
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This particular dawn, I picked up the phone and heard—barely—a croaky whisper. Trust my mother to use bonus time even if she couldn’t speak. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Laryngitis? Maybe you should write instead of calling. Sounds painful.”

Mackenzie groaned and rolled to the furthest extreme of the bed, putting his pillow over his head. He is alternately amused and irritated by my mother’s incursions into our life. This, understandably, was one of his less appreciative moments.

“Is he there?” she whispered.


“Shh! Yes or no.”

“Yes.” When had C. K. lost even his initials and become
? Why did she sound furtive? My mother’s so-called normal behavior is not to be confused with the statistical norm, but this was truly aberrant. “Hold on,” I said, glancing at Mackenzie. “I’ll get the portable.” I padded across to the kitchen wall, got the phone, padded back, hung up the receiver by the bed, and made my way to the sofa, where I sat, shivering—and belatedly realizing that in a loft without full walls, relocating a conversation doesn’t make much difference. “Now, what is this?” I whispered.

“I read an article,” she said in a breathy rush.

I approve of reading. Encourage and endorse it. Except in the case of my mother and newspapers. In fact, if the Moral Ecologists censored her reading, I’d be tempted to look the other way. According to her, ink on newsprint produced sacred text—although she paid scant attention to what was generally considered sacred text. I had pointed out the newspaper’s daily corrections and retractions, hoping that would lessen her gullibility, but she felt that proved the paper’s dedication to total honesty. And may I add that her choice of newspapers is eclectic, often including the variety that features newsflashes about Elvis fathering Michael Jackson’s alien ten-foot-tall love child.

“I want you to hire a detective,” she said.

“Why on earth? What’s wrong?”

“I’m not saying anything necessarily is.”

“But a detec—”

it—you’ll put him on guard!”

Him. The pronoun trying to catch a night’s sleep. “Mom,” I said, “I have no idea what you’re—” I went in search of something to wrap around me. “Are you in trouble?”

“There are people, detectives. You hire them to find information—”

“I know that.” I pulled the cloth off the oak table, wrapped it around me, and resettled onto the sofa.

“This is a special kind who finds out about…you know.”

“I most certainly do not!” It’s a real strain to disagree in a whisper.

I heard her sigh. I was
to hear her sigh. “Look,” she said, “you meet somebody, and what do you really know about him? Exactly nothing. A girl could get hurt.”

“We’re talking about me?”

“Believe me,” she said, “it’s dangerous out there.”

“Are we talking about him?”


I took a deep breath. “He
a detective.”

specialty is people who are already dead. You’re alive—what’s that worth to you? Besides, Mrs. Simmerling’s niece—”

Second only to newsprint, the adventures of her acquaintances and their relatives were Bea Pepper’s source of irrefutable wisdom. I prayed to be spared another Boca Raton homily, but the Lord put me on hold.

“—her fiancé turned out to have been engaged twice before, and both girls died suspiciously. Deborah could have become suspicious-corpse-number-three. This is a new kind of detective. A romantic detective.”

Wrong. The pronoun in my bed—that was a romantic detective, but I wasn’t wasting predawn breath on syntax. I counted to ten. It did no good. “Listen, Ma, you know and I know that…
”—I lowered my voice again—“goes after murderers. He isn’t one!”

“He has enough time to do both. Or something else bad. It doesn’t have to be killing somebody.”

“Goody. Not that this isn’t fascinating, but…” I couldn’t believe I was sitting in the dark wearing a tablecloth discussing Mackenzie’s possible murderous past.

“What do you really know about him? You met, and blammo, a
and you’re living together. Like that.”

“Not even in the
ballpark. It was more than a year before I moved in here.” Foolishly, I had thought she’d get off my case now that I lived with Mackenzie. But, bottom line, I was still single and she was still out there, the Avenging Mother.

“Mom, do you have coffee before you make these calls? Or do you just bound out of bed, at the ready?” She’d told me that the older she got, the less sleep she needed. And Bea awake was Bea on the phone. I was doomed.

“The man won’t even tell you his own name! What does that say about him?”

How could I answer? The missing name had become a shaggy-dog joke between us, a game I enjoyed. I thought of him as Seekay, and liked the slightly Asian overtones of the name.

“Have you met his family?”

Her round. “I was invited,” I said. “I couldn’t go.” The Mackenzie family had scheduled their reunion during finals week, when I couldn’t possibly take off from work. Not if I wanted work to return to. A zillion Mackenzie relatives couldn’t reschedule for the convenience of one female with no legal ties to them. Nothing to hold against C. K., was it?

“His family could be anything,” she said.

“What would it matter? I’m sure Princess Di thought she was getting a fine family along with Charles, and look how that—”

“The good news,” my mother said, “is that I know of a young man who
that kind of detective.”

“Don’t tell me. He’s related to somebody you know.”

She ignored me. “It’s done all the time nowadays. No shame attached. Part of the modern age, what with diseases and financial problems—”

“Anybody after my money would be too
to be dangerous.”

“I’m sure he’s got nothing to hide, but wouldn’t it be more comfortable to know that? You’re my daughter.” As if I might have forgotten. As if I would tolerate this ungodly hour and topic if she weren’t my mother. “I can’t bear the idea that you might get hurt. Think about it. I’d loan you the money.”

I said something sufficiently noncommittal to allow the conversation to end. And then I sat on the sofa, watching the skylight brighten as my mood darkened. It wasn’t her well-intentioned meddling. It was her reminder of the dark potential that could be anywhere, the unknown, the dangerous, the secretive and lethal.

And now that she’d mentioned it, how much did I know about Mackenzie?

Or about anything?

So that’s where I was before Monday began, and my encounter with the Moral Ecologists’ misplaced enthusiasms pounded me deeper into the ground. I went up to my room and took the only avenue of revenge at my disposal, the literary high road. I rummaged through the bookcase and found what I wanted, then filled an entire segment of the board with it, writing in multicolored chalk.
Think about Censorship,
I wrote.
What’s “Safe” or “Good” and Who Decides? Here’s how Mark Twain responded to news that his books had been banned in Brooklyn:

I wrote
Tom Sawyer
Huck Finn
for adults exclusively, and it always distresses me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean. I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was fifteen years old. None can do that and draw a clean, sweet breath again this side of the grave…. Most honestly do I wish that I could say a softening word or two in defense of Huck’s character…but really, in my opinion, it is no better than those of Solomon, David and the rest of the sacred brotherhood. If there is an unexpurgated Bible in the Children’s Department, won’t you please remove Tom and Huck from that questionable companionship?

I wrote
Do Not Erase
at the top and then realized that Jake Ulrich was behind me.

There was something inherently touching about Jake, a boy-tangle of uncontrolled growth—physically and mentally. Outside, he was tall and broad-shouldered, possibly destined to achieve hunkhood someday, but en route, he was a lad conspicuously endowed with an Adam’s apple, too many elbows and knees, and a mouthful of braces.

Today, his spirits seemed more dampened than usual, his expression more cloudy. Even his large frame seemed slightly bent.

He loomed in my doorway, one hand touching the top of it.

He nodded toward the board, acknowledging the Twain quote. “Sorry you met him,” he said without preamble. “I thought I could keep him my secret. I hate having you know—hate having anybody know.”

“Come in,” I said gently. “Sit down. Let’s talk.”

He nodded and entered, but didn’t settle. He prowled the room, touching the backs of chairs, almost ritually. “He’s out there, you know,” he said after a while. “They’re all out there now.” He touched more chair backs, went to the window, but didn’t look out. “He’s not my father. He’s my mother’s husband. You’ve got to understand that.”

“I do.” I nodded for extra emphasis. “He made that clear, too.”

“Why was he at the stupid fund-raiser, given how he feels about the Roederers? I’m sick they know about me now. And you, too. I feel…marked.”

What could I say to ease the ugliness of living with that obnoxious public enemy? Being a teen was hard enough. Add to it the strain of active loathing, and life becomes unbearable. “He seemed proud of you,” I offered, although I couldn’t manage much enthusiasm.

“I don’t think so. Besides, what if? Who cares what a crazy man thinks? He has this
this one stupid thing about dangerous books, and he’s
about it. He knows stupid people will listen to him. It’s all about power. He hates computers, too. He’s sure I’m only interested in finding pornography on it. Why are parents so weird about everything new? Even Griffin’s—they bought him a computer, but they hate when he uses it! He scanned and digitalized some things and they went ballistic.”

I shook my head. “You’ve lost me.”

“Changed pictures,” Jake explained. “He made the Mona Lisa scowl. It was funny, but they freaked. Said the computer would destroy art.”

“It does make everything suspect. We can’t believe our own eyes anymore.”

He nodded dismissively. “Seeing is believing” was obviously an old-fashioned adage he had no time for. “I should have come in and kidnapped him. Locked him in the basement.”

“What are we talking about now?”

“Him. Harvey. Saturday night. Before anybody found out. The Roederers didn’t know.” He looked devastated.

“You were there?”

He shrugged. “I hang there when I can. Griffin’s cool and his parents don’t pester us. We do our thing, they do theirs. Now I don’t know if they’ll let me be there anymore, and I can’t stay home. Harvey doesn’t go anywhere except to preach, or start one of those fires he says he has nothing to do with, or be with his, with that—”

I shouldn’t have intercepted his train of thought, but when he mentioned fires, I couldn’t help myself. “What do you mean by ‘start fires’?” Jake had been there Saturday night. Surely he’d noticed something through the upstairs windows.

He shrugged again. “Maybe not literally. He and Vivien, they
a fire. That’s what they call it, deciding. I’ve heard them. Well,
don’t do it. What they do is fight. And also…” He shook his head, dropped that tack. “I heard them fighting about which one of them would get to be the boss and decide.”

“When?” Maybe there’d be a provable link between the group and the recent fire.

“Whenever. She thinks he’s stolen her place, and she’s right. But it’s as much her fault, whatever happened between them. She let him take over because she…they were…”

“Who starts the fires?”

“There’s all those followers, drones. Why?”

Because it made it worse. Harvey Spiers could have been and undoubtedly was responsible for kindling Saturday night’s bonfire, but there’d be no way of proving the connection.

“My real father isn’t anything like him,” Jake said.

“But Jake, he does provide a home for you.”

“So would my father, if Harvey would stop making it an international incident. Harvey acts like my dad’s the Devil, saying I’ll turn out like him if he doesn’t shape me up. Like my father’s bad. My father
to get me. There were court orders and injunctions and all that kind of thing.”

“And your mother…what does she say about this?” It was difficult to imagine the putty woman generating enough energy to formulate opinions.

“She gets angry with me.” Jake looked heartbreakingly young and permanently incredulous at his mother’s choice of targets. “She cries. See, she and Harvey, they have their own problems and…” The flood of words dried up.

I now understood more of what bound Jake the intellectual and Griffin the street-smart kid together. They were princes in exile. Jake’s kingdom was across international lines with his M.I.A. father. And even though it would appear that Griffin had been rescued from bleakness into a happy ending, I’d heard him grouse about being “used” by “them” as if the Roederers had purchased him on a whim as an interesting accessory. He’d brainwashed Jake on this point, too, so that despite Jake’s expressed fondness for the Roederers, he’d join Griffin in claiming that the adoption was just to make the Roederers “look good,” that he was their “show kid.” And, for all his tough veneer, Griffin possessed vaguely articulated beliefs that somewhere, in an inaccessible Eden, his real and loving family had straightened out and now yearned for him.

BOOK: The Bluest Blood
12.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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