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Page 11

I called Melinda after I got up the next morning. It was late. Robin had gotten dressed and left about 1:00 a.m., giving me a kiss and a pat. He'd left a note on my coffeepot to tell me that he'd talk to me later. He'd signed it, "Love, your Robin."

I had to wait awhile before I had my coffee that morning. Something I'd eaten the day before, or maybe just the volume of the food, had made me a little queasy. When I had a piece of toast, I felt much better, and by the time nine o'clock rolled around, I figured Melinda would be up and dressed and safely into her morning. I poured some kibble into Madeleine's bowl while I waited for Melinda to pick up the phone. I wondered why Madeleine didn't come in, and realized I hadn't seen her the evening before, either. But that wasn't especially significant. I often missed her little visits to her food bowl.

Melinda had had a good time at her parents' home, she reported. She'd seen her brother and her sister, and their children had played with her children. She sounded as though she hadn't been ready for that little reunion to end.

"We'd been thinking of staying until Sunday, but with everything happening, Avery thought we'd better come back last night," she said drearily. "So, here we are. At least the kids slept most of the way back, and they went right to bed when we got home. But this morning, I think Marcy is coming down with a cold, damn it. Did anything happen while we were gone? Have you heard anything else about the funeral?"

"Not a word. So it looks like Poppy's body isn't going to be released until Monday, if then," I said. "In the meantime, in addition to someone searching Poppy's closet and making a big mess in there and in her bedroom, the Wynns were looking for something all over the house and tossed it around worse than the first burglar."

Melinda was stunned. I could hear her choking on whatever she was drinking. "Poppy's dad, the minister?" she asked incredulously. "Poppy's mom? Trashed her place? I can't believe it!" She went on like that for a few more minutes, though I knew she did believe me. It was a way to handle the unpleasant shock.

Melinda got to the bottom line quickly, as I knew she would. "So, we need to clean it up," she said. She sounded gloomy at the prospect. "Well, let me call around and see if I can get a teenager to baby-sit. They're all out of school, and maybe one of them wants to do something as boring as watching kids. Speaking of babies, where has John David stashed Chase?"

"I hope you're sitting down. John David's still in the motel with Chase, and there he stays, taking care of the little fellow."

That was just as shocking to Melinda as the vandalism of Poppy's house.

"I'll call him," she said when she had recovered. "I'll just check on them. This is a good thing, but I'm just not confident of his ability to take care of that child."

"Wasn't he a help before?"

"Not as much as /would've liked, though I can't say Poppy complained. As I told you, Avery has been great with both of ours. Of course, everyone takes it for granted that the mom will do everything for the kids, but if a dad does a lot for them, it's a big deal." I could picture Melinda's shrug.

"I'm proud of John David," I said. "I thought he'd fold."

"Me, too. Goes to show."

I wasn't sure what it went to show, but I grunted agreeably and we fixed a time to meet at the house on Swanson, if Melinda was lucky enough to get a sitter.

As I brushed my teeth, I found myself thinking of Sally. I felt a strong impulse to call her, just to check up on her. But what would I say? "Forgotten anything important lately, Sally?"

"Do you remember who I am, Sally?" I wondered if perhaps a complete physical could turn up some problem that was solvable, and not just expose the explanation Perry dreaded - that Sally was in the early stages of Alzheimer's. I made a note to myself to call Perry or take him out to lunch so we could talk about it without being interrupted, which we would be at the library.

Melinda called back to tell me she'd gotten a sitter, and she sounded much more cheerful. I got the impression Marcy's cold was making her daughter a little difficult and that Melinda definitely wouldn't mind a break. We agreed to meet at the house on Swanson at 10:00 a.m.

I wrote Phillip a note about my plans, including the number for my cell phone and the number at John David's. After I got dressed in grubby old jeans and a faded Christmas sweatshirt, both a little loose to allow me some comfort, I started out on my morning errands.

Somewhere along the way, I yielded to an irresistible impulse and drove over to the Best Western. John David was on the first floor, and I could hear Chase shrieking from outside the door.

John David looked bleary-eyed when he opened it, but he was dressed, and not surprised to have company. "Melinda already called this morning," he said, moving aside to let me in. "Listen, help me think of something to get him calmed down."

"I have almost no experience," I warned him.

"I've tried feeding him, burping him, changing him, and singing to him."

The idea of John David singing to that baby just did something to me. I'm a sucker for man who can take care of a baby, or a man who's at least trying to take care of a baby. To cover up the fact that my eyes were full of tears, I held out my arms and he put Chase in them. Chase was a wriggling bundle of misery, and he was making such a whirlwind of his little arms and legs that I was scared I wouldn't be able to hold him. I sat down in the room's one comfortable chair and held Chase so his chest was against mine, his head resting against my shoulder. The chair wouldn't rock, so I rocked for it, back and forth, back and forth, murmuring to the baby.

Chase began to relax some, and the shrieks died down to whimpers. Suddenly, there was silence. He was sound asleep, but I kept up with my movement.

"He's all I've got left to love," John David said in a near whisper. He looked thinner after only a few days of being a widower. He had shaved, and he had tucked in his shirt and combed his hair, but the spark was not in his eyes anymore.

"How can you say you loved her?" I asked. My voice was strained with the effort of containing my anger and speaking in a low, calm voice. "I found you at Romney's, and it wasn't the first place I looked."

"I always loved Poppy. I got mad at her a lot. She was a woman with a lot of secrets," he said, his voice just as low and controlled. "But I loved her. Just not the way you think people ought to love. You're such a straight arrow. Life has no spice unless you have adventures." He even smiled, just a faint one, but a smile nonetheless.

If my hands had been free at that moment, I might have tried to throttle him. "You're right," I said, so furiously that Chase whimpered. "I don't understand. I'll never understand." I fought to keep my voice under control. "I am really glad you're taking care of Chase. But it is beyond my comprehension, how you and Poppy could live like you did."

"She was a complicated woman. She had some bad breaks when she was in her early teens," John David said. "I would have liked it if we'd been different, I swear I would. I didn't set out to be ... like I am. But we made a pattern, and it was one that let us live together, and I thought it would be okay."

It was like we had both taken a little truth serum. I had never imagined having such a conversation. But it was actually kind of refreshing to openly acknowledge their fractured marriage.

"So," I began, then paused. "You both always knew? When the other was seeing someone else?"

He nodded, and I felt my mouth twist with distaste. Abruptly, I was nauseated by the idea of such a union, and baffled by the point of it.

The baby was getting heavier and heavier. I got up very slowly and carefully and placed him in the bassinet that had been set up by the bed. Whether John David had brought it from the house or the motel had rolled it in, I didn't know, but I was glad it was there so I could put Chase down without my back positively breaking.

"John David," I said very softly, looking down at the sleeping child, "who do you think killed her?"

"I think maybe it was her mother," he said, his voice a hoarse whisper. "I'd hate to think Sandy would do something like that, but you don't know that family. Let me tell you, any sick pattern you think Poppy and I had, she learned it from her own mom and dad. She'd never get into details, but she never wanted them here. She'd be pretty open about everything else."

"She talked about the other men?"

"Arthur most of all. He was always obsessive about her. I think it's pretty damn peculiar that the police chief has Arthur on the case, unless Arthur's persuaded him he's found a possible suspect. Arthur kind of transferred all those feelings he had about you to Poppy. He even talked to Poppy about you, all the time at first."

This was more than I wanted to know.

"And then there were others."

I shook my head. "I can't understand."

"She used them, you know," he said. He leaned forward, his hands between his knees. I wondered if he'd be able to build a healthy relationship with anyone after this. "They were always some use to her. Or after it was over, she made them useful in some way."

"What about you?" I asked, not able to think about Poppy anymore. "Is that the way you picked your... friends?"

"No." He shrugged, "I just wanted something simple." After a minute, I realized that he was crying, and I patted him on the shoulder, gave him a little peck on the forehead, and left to search his house.

"We could have hired someone to do this," Melinda said. We were standing in the middle of the chaos in what had once been a perfectly ordinary suburban home.

"Yes," I agreed. "We could have. But whatever's hidden here, it's us that needs to find it." Ungrammatically and inelegantly as I'd put it, Melinda's dark eyes widened as she considered what I'd said.

She nodded. "Whatever it is."

"It's not going to be easy. The Wynns would have found it, if it were easy. And when we do find it, no one needs to see it but us."

"The police?"

"We'll see."

"So we're like detectives?" Melinda smiled weakly. "Well, that's a new role for me. I already have so many hats, I can't wear them all at one time."

"Hey, we're more than detectives," I said, trying to make my voice bracing and hearty. "We're Uppity Women."

"So we are."

By 10:30, we were putting books back on the shelves in the study. We dusted the books first, since neither of us was capable of reshelving anything that needed a run-over with a rag. And we checked each book for enclosures, too.

Nothing fell from the pages, no matter how hard we shook. The desks were absolutely normal, too. Melinda and I were neat and methodical in our search. We didn't talk much at first, because we were intent on what we were doing, and because we were trying to move quickly.

Melinda balked after forty minutes. "It's not the work I mind," she said abruptly; "it's the fact that you think we ought to judge whether or not the police get whatever we find."

"You know that Arthur Smith was Poppy's lover?"

She nodded.

"You want him to decide whether or not something's relevant?"

"I've been wondering..." she said after a moment. "I've been wondering if Arthur didn't actually ... If he might..."

"You think Arthur might have killed Poppy?" I was shocked, but not as shocked as I might have been. "He's got an obsessive personality," I admitted. "He's got lots of know-how." Who was better qualified to be a murderer than a policeman?

I dusted the same book (a pharmaceutical dictionary of John David's) over and over as I thought about Arthur. "But you know, Melinda... their affair was long over. If he'd still been involved with her, I would say it might even be likely." I thought some more, trying to picture Arthur knocking on Poppy's glass door.

"I don't know," I said, not wanting to picture that any longer. "But that's why I think we need to talk about just burning whatever we find. However, first, we've got to find something."

After an hour and a half, we had the office picked up, dusted, vacuumed, and searched. We had found absolutely nothing besides the usual detritus of any home filled with busy people. Poppy had an overdue bill from Davidson's that I knew I should bring to John David's attention (it had gotten stuck to another paper with some jelly), and she hadn't sent in her latest book club notice, so I put that on top of the little pile of due bills so John David would see it first.

The most exciting thing Melinda had found was one of a pair of earrings that Poppy had been trying to find for a month or more. I remembered her telling us, in her dramatic way, how she would just cry if she didn't find the missing earring. We cried a little ourselves when Melinda held it up.

Figuring John David wouldn't mind, we got some sliced ham out of the refrigerator and made sandwiches, in the process throwing out some leftovers that were obviously way past their prime. Cleaning out the refrigerator hadn't been high on Poppy's priority list. I took the first full garbage bag out the sliding glass door to the large garbage can Poppy kept there. After I tossed it in, I breathed in the clear, chilly air for a minute. My lungs felt dusty from all the books. Standing there looking at the back fence jogged a memory. I turned back into the kitchen and looked around. Yes, there on the counter was a radio. I examined it to locate the on button, then punched it. The music that came into the room, admittedly on the loud side, was not the classical or jazz music I usually heard on NPR, but a classic rock station based in Lawrenceton.

Well, there was another puzzle. Lizanne had said that when she'd approached the gate to the backyard, she'd heard the radio playing loudly, loudly enough to obscure the voices at Poppy's back door. And that was when Poppy must have been murdered. But Poppy's radio wasn't on NPR.

Perhaps the crime-scene cleaner - nope, that was ridiculous. Sealed in his hazmat suit, he couldn't have heard music clearly at all; no reason for him to turn on the radio. That was as ludicrous as the idea of Marvin Wynn, right-wing preacher, turning on a classic rock station while he conducted an illegal search of his dead daughter's house.

Of course, Lizanne might have been lying. But her account had been so believable, so detailed. Why would she have lied about the radio station? It was something so easy to check.

And yet, no one had checked it until now.

Probably that was next on Arthur's list of things to do. Right?

Selfishly, I shared my worries with Melinda. She shrugged, not too interested in solving a puzzle with so many missing pieces. We'd been eating at the dining table by the sliding glass door, and I'd pulled the curtain back as far as it could go so the sun could brighten the room. Suddenly, it seemed confining, sitting in the chair. I pushed back from the table and went to stand by the glass door. I half-turned, easing a finger around the waistband of my slacks. I realized I must have horribly overeaten the day before. I felt swollen.

Should we have reported the Wynns' activities to Arthur?

I turned my head to say something to Melinda, only to catch her staring at me in a strange way.

"What?" I asked defensively.

"Aurora... don't get me wrong, here... . We're friends, right?"

"Sure." Confused and bewildered, that's how I sounded.

"You and Robin are really close, right? Really, really close?"

I understood what Melinda was trying to ask.

"Yes. Really, really close."

"How long has it been since you had your period?" she said bluntly.

"Oh... I'd have to look at my calendar." I tried to remember. "Let's see, I was cutting out ghost silhouettes to put up for Halloween, and we decorate the library the second week in October, but I did those early. ..." I shrugged. "I'm not always real regular."

"So you're not on the pill."

"No." Boy, when Melinda decided to get personal, she didn't mess around.

"But you are using birth control?"

"Melinda! Well... mostly." I felt my face redden as I thought of one evening a few weeks ago when we hadn't had time. In fact, we'd been in the bathroom upstairs at my mother's. It made me feel hot all over when I thought about it. "You know I can't have kids, Melinda." Robin had used condoms all the same, except for that once. Well, maybe one or two others. But it hadn't seemed like such a big deal; since I'd dated at least one man who didn't want me if I couldn't have children, I'd been very up-front with Robin about my infertility. This was. a very sore subject with me, and I'd thought Melinda would respect that.

"I know Dr. Mendelssohn, whom I think is an overpriced jerk, said so. Are your boobs sore?"

I was startled all over again. "Well, sensitive," I said, thinking of how I'd had to caution Robin to be gentler the night before.

"Have you looked at yourself in the mirror?"

"What are you driving at, Melinda?"

"I'll bet your bosom is really tender, not just a little sensitive."

I nodded reluctantly.

"You've skipped using birth control at least one time, and I'd bet more often than that, and you're having sex. Your last period was six weeks ago."

Well, that had been a long time, come to think of it.

"I'll bet you've been exhausted the past few days, been dropping off to sleep whenever you sat down. You have big rings under your eyes. Did you know that? Have you been queasy in the morning?"

I covered my mouth with both hands, feeling a wave of absolute terror and delight sweep over me.

Melinda waited for me to answer, then went on when I didn't. "I've been pregnant twice, and I'd swear you should have a pregnancy test."

"Don't even say it," I told her. "Don't even think it." I waved my hands to erase her words from the air. I cursed the hope that sprang up in my heart. This was false and cruel.

"I'm sorry," Melinda said, looking as though she was going to cry. And she damn well ought to, I thought. "I just think..." Then she looked at me and canned whatever she'd been going to say. "Okay, Roe. Subject closed."

"Let's work on the bedroom," I said, holding my eyes wide so the tears wouldn't spill out of them.

"Sure." She grabbed a fresh dust cloth, a garbage bag, and the handle of the Dirt Devil. "Let's go."

It seems to be a universally held truth that people conceal their secrets in their bedrooms. If I had to hide something, I had to admit that I, too, would probably start looking for a good place in the room that was most mine, the room where I slept. Maybe Poppy, who had single-handedly organized the Christmas food drive at St. James's, had had a smarter idea, but I planned to be even more meticulous in my search of this room than I had been in our reconstruction of the study. I had observed that Sandy Wynn had picked Poppy's bedroom to begin her own search, while relegating Marvin to the downstairs room.

Unfortunately, it was a large bedroom and the closet hadn't been cleaned in a long time. Poppy'd had a lot of clothes, and so did John David, since he had the kind of job that required suits. Melinda had a problem with small spaces, and though it was a big closet, it was still a closet. So I volunteered, then went back down the stairs to fetch a step stool. I was all in favor of a job that would keep me out of Melinda's sight for a while. I needed to work around what had happened downstairs. I was so conflicted that I pretty much felt numb. Doing something physical was exactly what I needed.

In no time, I was coughing at the dust I raised. The original searcher, the one who'd been in soon after Poppy died, had left a big jumble, and Sandy Wynn had added to the mess. But I could discern Poppy's storage method easily enough. She'd kept all her dress shoes in their original shoe boxes. Those had been stacked on the shelf above her hanging clothes, with the outer end of the box labeled - "navy pumps," for example, or "black patent 2-in." I dusted the shelf, and then I began examining the boxes and shoes as I dusted and replaced them. It was time-consuming and tedious. Poppy's everyday shoes had been on a rack on the floor of the closet, and there was a section of cube-shaped storage units toward the back that held Poppy's sweaters and purses. I restacked them, examining each one.

I'd do her stuff first, then try to restore order to John David's side.

I could hear Melinda sliding out drawers to look at the bottoms and backs, checking to see if something had been taped in a hard-to-find place. She was also replacing the strewn contents of the drawers as she went, throwing away things like ancient prescriptions, odd socks, hose with runs. We had to walk a fine line here: returning things to order and neatness without interfering too much. We'd agreed to return Poppy's things to their hangers and boxes; her clothing and paraphernalia would have to be given away someday, but that wasn't up to us.

The top part of the closet was finally done, and I was hanging slacks when Melinda gave a sort of odd choking noise.

With some relief, I stepped out of the closet to check on her progress. My sister-in-law was standing by the bed, her eyes fixed on something she held in her hand. Her cheeks were flaming red.


She opened her mouth to speak, then shut it again. She shook her head violently.

"Melinda?" I reached around her to take the object from her hand.

It was a photograph. It actually took me a few seconds to comprehend what I was seeing. In this photograph, Poppy was giving someone a blow job. The picture had been taken from so close that you couldn't tell who the male was.

I can't describe what a shock it was to see a picture of someone I knew performing a sex act. In this floral suburban bedroom, the picture was even more obscene than it would have been if I'd chanced upon it in a magazine.

"I wonder who it is," I said once when I could speak. "I mean, possibly this is some loving record of her and John David?"

"Oh, it never is!" Melinda said. She was absolutely outraged. "The Queensland brothers, I know from Avery, are both un-circumcised. This... individual, as you can see, is not."

"At least she didn't keep it as blackmail." I was looking for reassurance. "I mean, you can't tell who it is, and the thing itself looks pretty anonymous, doesn't it? No big freckles, or, ah, anything unusual."

Melinda looked at the picture again, her lips pursed with distaste. "No, just a regular old wienie," she said.

We looked at each other and burst into laughter. "Look at it this way. You know it's not Avery," I said.

"And look at the hair. Couldn't be Robin," she pointed out.

True. Robin was redheaded all over, so to speak.

"I refuse to guess," I said after one final inspection. "But whoever it is, we agree that John David should not see this."


"Where was it?"

"It was taped to the bottom of this little drawer." Melinda pointed to Poppy's jewelry box, which was filled to overflowing with inexpensive necklaces and earrings. There was a pullout drawer at the bottom, so you could lay your chains inside and they wouldn't tangle. Melinda had pulled it all the way out and flipped it.

"Aren't you smart to think of that!" I said admiringly.

Melinda looked modest.

"Well, no telling how much else we'll find," I said, unable to suppress a sigh. "I guess we'd better get back to work."

The next find was mine. Taped into the lining of a spring coat Poppy had worn maybe twice a year was a letter. The letter was from the Reverend Wynn to Poppy. It was signed and dated. In the letter, he admitted he had had "relations" with Poppy when she was thirteen.

For a few minutes, Melinda and I could not even look at each other.

"Relations with a relation," Melinda said in an effort to pull us out of our nauseated reaction. She dropped that effort when it rang false. "Poor Poppy," she said sadly.

"No wonder she was so wild," I said. "No wonder she was so..."

"Promiscuous," Melinda supplied.


"This is the nastiest thing I have ever read. I wonder why he wrote it?"

"I guess this was insurance," I said, having thought it over for a minute or two. "Maybe this was her way of keeping him away from her kids. Keeping him out of her life. She must have told him she'd tell his bishop, or whoever stands in place of a bishop in the Lutheran church." I made a mental note to check on that later.

"Do you think his wife knows about this?"

I started to deny that instantly. Then I reconsidered.

"She was searching," I admitted. I told Melinda about the gas station receipt. "She could have come here that morning and questioned Poppy about it."

"Then you'd have to assume she knows her husband did this to her daughter." Melinda brandished the letter. "If she does, how can she live with him?"

"This is a question I can't answer. Another one is, Would she have killed Poppy to conceal this? Bryan left a message for Arthur to call him back, so he could tell Arthur about the receipt. Maybe Arthur already knows."

We began a little pile.

I had to rethink Poppy's character as I worked and searched.

My sister-in-law had shown me only the tip of the iceberg, as far as letting me know her true self. I had to realize that I had seen the better, but less complex, portion of Poppy's personality. Beneath had lain monsters.

We were determined to find everything. It was not conceivable that we would let anything slip by us, to fall into the hands of a stranger, or, worse yet, someone who knew Poppy. Sooner or later, John David would give away Poppy's things to some local charity or to a friend. Or he'd search himself. He mustn't see these - what? Souvenirs? Insurance policies? Totems?

Bubba Sewell would definitely never make representative, I decided when I found the picture of him buck naked on Poppy's - and John David's - bed. He was real excited, and hardly looked like a lawmaker. In a beige photo album, that picture was slid in behind a snap of Poppy and John David on vacation in Florida. Definitely done in an "Up yours, John David" moment.

"Idiot," I muttered, and tossed it on the pile.

"Who's that?" Melinda looked up from her examination of Poppy's lingerie drawer.

"Cartland Sewell."

Melinda shook her head in disgust, not even bothering to look at the picture. She continued with her search, and made the next discovery. She found an ID tag stuck in a rectangular Playtex box with a new bra - the kind of tag you clip to your lapel. The picture on it was of a bearded, thin man, who just happened to be Cara Embler's heart surgeon husband. It was his hospital identification.

"I guess Stuart got it replaced," Melinda said. "Her backdoor neighbor! Poppy had never heard about not fouling your own nest, I guess."

"He's one of John's doctors," I said.

"Daddy John?" This was Melinda's pet name for John Queensland.

I nodded.

She sighed, a huge exhalation of exasperation. "I'm sorry, heart surgeons don't get sex lives," she said. "Not with the daughters-in-law of their patients."

"Who knows which came first, though, the heart attack or the affair? If you can term it an affair, that is. Maybe it was just a - you know."

"Just a fling," Melinda said.

That hadn't been the word I was thinking of, but... Oh well.

"That's right, we can't know." This actually made her feel better.

"What I'm wondering is, What're we missing. If we're finding this much, what did the other searchers find? Can there be stuff that's worse?" We stared at each other, sunk in gloom.

And we heard a door open downstairs.

I don't know how I looked, but Melinda's dark eyes grew as wide and dark as tablespoons full of molasses.

"Who's there?" called a deep male voice, and we could hear heavy footsteps as someone began ascending the stairs. "Aurora, are you all right? I saw your car."

Melinda and I stared at the little pile, and, obeying an irresistible impulse, I sat on it.

We were perched side by side on the bed, looking guilty as hell, when Detective Arthur Smith came into the bedroom.

"What are you two doing?" he asked gently. He could tell he'd given us a scare.

"It's okay for us to be here, right?" Melinda voice was high and squeaky.

"Yes, we told John David he could come back to the house anytime he wanted. But what are you doing?"

"We're cleaning up," I said, all too aware that I sounded just as nervous as my partner in crime. "Have you talked to Bryan Pascoe?" I wanted to change the subject.

"And you started with the study downstairs?" Arthur asked, ignoring my question. "Surely it didn't look like that the other day?"

Arthur was far too observant. "No, no, it didn't," I gabbled. "The fact is ..." I looked at Melinda, desperately needing some help.

"The fact is," Melinda said, glaring at me, "that Roe caught Poppy's mom and dad going through everything Wednesday night, and she threw them out. So we had to clean up the study first."

I hadn't expected Melinda to tell the truth, and I'm sure my startled face told Arthur more than I wanted him to know.

He pulled over a chair that Poppy had placed in the corner of the room, a pretty little wooden chair with a bright needlepoint cushion, more of Poppy's work. I hadn't noticed it before, at least in the sense of imagining its possibilities, and I found myself planning to check out the cushion later.

Arthur plunked himself down in front of us, looking up at us as we perched awkwardly on the high antique bed. My legs were sticking out at an odd angle, and Melinda's feet were just barely touching the floor.

"What explanation did they give?" he asked. His voice was reasonable, but his expression wasn't. "And why didn't you call me?"

"I wasn't there," Melinda said, maybe a little too quickly. Coward! "Sorry," she muttered to me. "Can't help it."

"I came by with Bryan Pascoe," I said. "We made them leave, but they sure weren't about to tell us why they were here."

"What do you think they were looking for?" Arthur asked.

Suddenly, I realized that Arthur had just come in the house without either of us admitting him. But we'd locked the door behind us. Would the police get to keep a key? Surely not, after the house had been re-opened to the family.

Arthur had a key. Though their affair was long over, he had a key, too.

For a brilliant red flash of a moment, I hated Poppy with all my heart. I looked at Arthur and wondered if I ought to fear him. Over the years, I had felt many things for Arthur: love, passion, anger, grief, annoyance, outrage, exasperation. But I had never thought I'd be frightened of him.

The tense silence stretched out unbearably.

"Roe - and you, too, Melinda - I did not kill Poppy. I was crazy about her, and she was about me, but it didn't last. I never said anything to the chief, because I want to catch whoever killed her. I want to catch him myself. This is the last thing I can do for Poppy. I want to do it right."

I looked at him doubtfully, but Melinda was convinced. She turned to me. "I think we should," she said quietly.

"No," I told her emphatically. The news would spread everywhere. John would be hurt by this knowledge; John David would be even more wounded. Sooner or later, the little bit of mortality that was Chase would know about it.

"We have to," Melinda said, just to me.

I gave her a very dark look and eased off the bed. She took up the letter and handed it to Arthur. He put on a pair of reading glasses that he'd pulled from his breast pocket. As he read, we both watched him carefully. While he was busy, I slipped the two pictures into my pocket. Melinda watched me and gave a tiny nod. Arthur would probably burst a blood vessel if he saw them. As it was, disgust twisted his lips as he read the words scrawled on the paper.

"Even her father," he muttered.

"That wasn't her fault," Melinda said, instantly indignant. "For God's sake, she was thirteen!"

Arthur gathered himself, glancing up at us, then back to the sprawling handwriting. I couldn't read him, had no idea what he was thinking. He folded the paper and put it in his pocket.

"There was something about her," he said.

Melinda looked at me in consternation. Though she'd known about Arthur and Poppy, this sudden wistful admission from the cop in charge of the investigation threw her completely.

"Listen, Arthur," I said as gently as I could. "Maybe someone else should be in charge of this case. What about that Cathy Trumble? She seemed real able."

"She didn't know Poppy like I did," Arthur said. "I know the chief would take me off the case if he knew I'd been involved with Poppy, but I'm the best investigator on the force, and I have to find out who did this to her. She was the most exciting, the most wonderful... I never dreamed anyone could be as wonderful as you were, Roe, but Poppy was something extraordinary."

Melinda gave me a horrified stare. I could feel my cheeks flame red, and I turned my hands palm up. What could I say? For years after he'd dumped me (to marry Lynn, and then divorce her), Arthur had thought he loved me. For years he'd turned up at odd moments in my life, his eyes begging me to take him back. He'd never shown that level of devotion when we were dating, when it would have been appropriate and welcome.

Maybe that was the way it had worked with Poppy, too. He'd gotten hooked on her when she'd moved on to someone else.

"We were together when she shopped for that rug downstairs, the one that had all her blood on it," he said, almost conversationally. "She told me that every time she looked at it, she thought of me. We had sex on it."

That definitely fell into the category of "More than I want to know."

"But she switched to someone after you, Arthur," I said. "Who was it?"

"She told me," Arthur said, "long ago... She told me that when she was inducted into the Uppity Women, she was going to make sure I got a promotion. Chief of detectives is coming up. Jeb Green's gotten a better job in Savannah. Poppy told me my career would take off. She promised me so much, and gave me so little."

She'd told Cartland she'd help him progress in state government. He'd been so besotted with her, he'd been willing to leave his wife and children. Poppy had been trying to be a total package: illicit lover, career advancer, wife, mother, suburban queen. I wondered if I'd ever known the real woman. What had she been like when she was alone?

"We never really knew her," Melinda said to me. She sounded as sad as I felt. She hooked her dark hair behind her ears and gave Arthur a determined look. "Listen, Detective Smith. We don't want to hear any more about you and Poppy. What we want is to know what to do about the letter. And we want to know what you're going to do about her mother."

Arthur seemed to jerk himself out of the pool of reminiscence he'd fallen into. "What about her mother?" he asked. "Does this have something to do with the messages Bryan Pascoe has been leaving at the station?"

"If you returned your phone calls, you could have picked her up already," I said, angry and somehow hurt by all Arthur's unwelcome revelations. I explained about the gas station receipt, about the attendant's memory of the day Poppy had been murdered.

"I'll go find out."

Arthur left in a hurry, determined to track down the Wynns and interrogate them. After he'd gone, Melinda and I had to gather ourselves back together for a few minutes. We were quite shaken by Arthur and his odd behavior.

"Even if it was Sandy Wynn who killed Poppy, and that part of it gets wrapped up," Melinda said, "we still have to finish this job." She waved her hand at the bedroom, still considerably out of order.

"You're right. John David shouldn't find this stuff." I stuck the plastic ID tag into my pocket to dispose of later with heavy scissors. I ripped the fellatio picture and the frank snap of Cartland Sewell into tiny bits and flushed them down the toilet. Neither of us wanted to give those to Arthur. I didn't know how I was ever going to look Bubba in the face again, as it was. "That wasn't the same person," I told Melinda as the picture bits disappeared. "In both those pictures. Different guys."

"Oh? I guess I didn't compare." She gave me a lopsided smile.

"Well, the one in the close-up picture was a lot, ah, bigger in diameter than Cartland's."

"Think of knowing that about someone," Melinda said, and, amazingly, she giggled. "You know, Avery is my one and only. Pretty rare in this day and age, huh?"

I nodded respectfully. My own list was quite short, but it did have more than one name on it. "I can't understand anyone letting Poppy take pictures," I said. "I'm feeling pretty much on the naive side, too. It seems like common sense would tell the man that such a thing could only lead to trouble. You can deny and deny - but if the other person has a picture, denials are pretty useless."

"Avery and I sure wouldn't do that," Melinda said. "And I can't see the point. I know what he looks like. He knows what I look like. What's the point of taking pictures? Just something for the kids to find and bring out in the middle of a dinner party, right?"

"That's my opinion, too. I just don't get it."

"Maybe we're just too middle-class?"

I laughed. "Maybe so, Melinda. Maybe so."

I called my house to see if Phillip had returned. When he didn't answer, I called the Finstermeyers and got Josh's mom, Beth.

"We were just trying to call you," she said. "Listen, would it be all right if I took the boys Christmas shopping with me? The Bodine mall is having all kinds of after-Thanksgiving sales, and with these two guys for bodyguards, I thought I might come out of it alive. I'd have them back by seven or eight tonight."

"Sure, that's fine with me." Phillip seemed to be really clicking with Josh. I felt quite pleased about that. "Um, could I speak to Phillip for a minute?"


"Hey, Sis." Phillip's voice was deeper and more relaxed than I remembered it.

"Listen, Phillip, do you have enough money for a trip to the mall?"

"Well, I am sort of broke."

"On your way out of town, why don't you swing by Poppy's house - Mrs. Finstermeyer will know where that is - and I'll spot you some cash."

"Thanks!" Phillip sounded quite enthusiastic. "Oh, and Roe? When I went to your house to get my coat, I saw you had a few messages on the answering machine. I didn't listen to them, because I was in a big hurry."

"Thanks back at you," I told him. "I'll check them before too long."

In a few minutes, I'd handed Phillip the entire contents of my billfold, and Melinda and I went back to work.

Two hours later, we were tired and rumpled. Melinda had started sneezing from breathing so much dust. And we had found only one more memento, a stained male bikini. When I held it up, Melinda said, "I don't even want to think about that." I could not have agreed more. I dropped the shiny black thing right into the garbage bag - the third one we'd filled with the odd trash that everyone accumulates. Melinda and I were just not capable of returning 1998 sales slips, old tissues, and outdated catalogs to their original places, especially since we had no idea where those places had been.

We lifted the bare mattress and the box spring, we checked under the bed, and we shifted all the furniture slightly. We looked over, under, and inside everything.

After a vacuuming and a final look around, Melinda and I agreed that the bedroom was cleaner and more orderly than it had been before someone came into the house on Tuesday. For our grand finale, we remade the bed. The police had taken the linens to the lab.

We trailed wearily downstairs and sat at the table beside the glass doors. With the stained rug gone and all trace of the blood removed, it was a lot easier to forget what had happened on this spot. Since John David had never seen Poppy's body, I hoped he might be able to tolerate staying in the house.

"I wish we could tell some of the other Uppity Women what we're looking for. They'd help us," Melinda said.

"Yeah, it's too bad we can't tap into that energy," I said, leaning my head on my folded arms. I could not remember ever having felt so tired in my life. I must be getting old, I thought, to let some housecleaning exhaust me to such an extent. "But it would defeat the purpose of us searching if we let everyone in on why we needed to do it."

"Listen. Cara Embler's out swimming. In this weather!" Melinda shivered. It had turned into a raw day, and Cara was either dedicated or an utter fool to be out swimming in the cold, wet air.

"Better her than me," I muttered. "You know she's going to be the next Uppity Woman?"


"Yes, she was next on the list after Poppy."

"And she's so energetic."

"All that exercise. She has to do something to keep busy, since she doesn't work, I guess."

"I'm glad Avery isn't a doctor. They're gone so much. Swimming is lots better than eating when you're lonely, like I do." Melinda cast a disparaging eye down at her own somewhat-rounded stomach.

"You look great to me."

"Well, I can hardly fit into the size I was wearing before I had Charles," Melinda said frankly. She was punching buttons on the phone. "I have to check in at home."

I was left staring at a wedding picture of John David and Poppy. I tried to imagine maintaining a marriage so screwed up that the partners would not be interested in each other's infidelity. My mother had certainly cared when my father had been unfaithful. Boy, had she cared! Though they would never have fought in front of me, I'd been a teen, and I'd been aware of the thick tension in our house.

I recalled John David crying that morning in the motel room, and I tried to grasp what people could do to each other short of killing each other. In the background, I heard Melinda's voice as she talked to her baby-sitter, her laughter as the girl probably passed along something cute Marcy had said.

My mind wandered back to the previous Monday, the day of Poppy's death. My phone call from her, our conversation. How irritated Melinda and I had been with our sister-in-law.

Our drive over to Swanson Lane, my march into the house. The unlocked front door.

I wondered if Poppy usually kept it locked, or if her mother had surprised her by just walking in. My eyes opened wide as I considered this new idea. Why had Sandy picked that particular time to try to retrieve the letter? It had been dated a year and half ago. That meant that when Poppy had been pregnant, she had demanded that letter from her father in exchange for - what? Marvin's never seeing his grandchild? Poppy wouldn't have known then that she'd have a boy.

Okay, back to the basic memory, I told myself. The front door had been open. I had walked in. I had called up the stairs. I had walked up the stairs. The shower had been dry, so I'd known Poppy had been out of it for a while. The room had been neat; the bed had been made. The closet door had been shut. I could even picture my feet moving downstairs in those shoes, my favorites. Then I'd seen Moosie, right? (Who was still missing, incidentally. I made a mental note to check on that.)

The cat had stropped my ankles, then run ahead of me into the kitchen. I'd felt the cold air keenly, the closer I got to the back of the house. When I'd come into the kitchen and looked over the breakfast bar to my left, I'd seen the glass door open.

I hadn't been able to see Poppy's body until I'd come around the end of the breakfast bar with its high stools. There was Poppy's body, sprawled on the floor. She lay half in and half out the door, partially on the rug under the dining table, partially on the linoleum. I'd heard Cara splashing in the pool. I'd looked out into the backyard, over Poppy's body, and seen the concrete around Poppy's own pool dotted with darker water stains. Looked down again at Poppy, horribly dead, her hands ... I had to gulp back my nausea.

Could Sandy Wynn have done that to her own daughter?

The older I got, the less I seemed able to understand or predict the behavior of those around me. Instead of gaining wisdom, so that people seemed simpler, I learned more about the complexity of human nature.

"So, what do you think?" Melinda's voice made me jump.

"I think that we've probably found everything there is to find," I said. "I may be wrong, and if I am, there'll be hell to pay. We didn't find anything of Arthur's, for example, and we know he was one of Poppy's lovers. Maybe that means he was already here, searching. Maybe he's the one who trashed the bedroom. Maybe he just wouldn't let her photograph him, or he was too alert for her to risk taking some little memento. Or maybe that black underwear was his." Melinda and I wore matching expressions of disgust as we considered that.

"You sure he wasn't the one in the, you know, the picture with Poppy?" She carefully found something else to look at while I tried to remember. It wasn't that Arthur had looked awful naked - quite the contrary - but I just couldn't remember. There hadn't been anything outstanding in the pertinent department.

"I just don't know," I said finally, and Melinda nodded. "To return to our original subject, I just don't think Poppy would have risked hiding anything really awful down here in the more or less public rooms. Not only might John David have found it but also she'd have realized Chase would be walking very soon. And there were other people in and out. Baby-sitters and friends, and other lovers even. I think we've found it all, or very close to all."

"But are we comfortable with stopping now? Just letting the chips fall where they may?"

Melinda was sitting opposite me, her thin hands folded together. I tried to pretend I had some energy. I sat up straight.

"Yes, I think so," I said, not sounding sure at all.

"You're right," Melinda said more decisively. She was sure enough for the two of us. "I think she put everything, um, naughty up in their room, where she could keep a close eye on it, and I think we've found everything. I can't imagine another hiding place in that room. We looked everywhere."

"No, we didn't."


"We didn't look in the needlepoint cushion of that chair."

Melinda knew instantly what I meant. She was out of the kitchen and up the stairs in that smooth, unhurried stride that made her look so efficient. She was back in a moment, cushion in hand.

She handed it to me, and I looked it over. Poppy had done the needlepoint for the top of the flat cushion herself. I have no craft ability whatsoever, so I couldn't have told you what kind of pattern it was, but the design was thistles on a cream background. The top was shaped like a large pancake to match the round seat of the chair. The bottom of the cushion was covered in a sage green silky material. It had turned out real pretty. Now we were about to deface it.

"I feel bad about this," I said, hesitating over the pretty thing. A dead woman's hands had crafted this, and I was reluctant to begin. I wriggled the padding in a sort of wave motion, and I felt something rustle inside the cushion.

"Oh hell, there's something in there," I told Melinda.

We looked at each other with a kind of despair. I felt dirty outside because of all the dust we'd stirred up in the corners of the bedroom - though that had been easy enough to clean up - and I felt dirty inside because of all the dirt we'd discovered in Poppy's life - which wasn't easy to dispose of at all. It was a neat parallel, and it made me sick. I never wanted to know this much about another human being, I decided. People needed their secrets. My mother had always told me that ignorance is dangerous, but the way I felt now, ignorance would be true bliss.

Melinda said, "I can sew it shut if we just cut a thin slit."

The sharpest knife we could find glided easily into the sage green material. Melinda held the cushion absolutely flat and still while I enlarged the opening. Melinda's fingers were far longer than mine, so she assumed the task of extraction. Tweezed between her long forefinger and middle finger, the piece of paper hissed like a snake against the silk as she drew it out.

I unfolded the paper with as much terror as if it had been an actual reptile.

It was the results of a DNA test. "A paternity test," I told Melinda. "It looks like Poppy took two samples in to be tested against Chase's DNA. She paid for it up front, cash. Get this - it was ordered by Dr. Stuart Embler." I looked at Melinda significantly, then returned my attention to the letter. "She told them - well, I can't figure out exactly what she told them, but subject A was not the father, and Subject B was."

Melinda opened and closed her mouth several times, as if she thought she knew what to say, then decided that she didn't. I knew exactly how she felt.

"What are we going to do?" she asked finally.

"What a good question," I said. "And I don't have the slightest idea what the answer is. Should we make an appointment with Aubrey?"

"But he'd know then. We can't have anyone knowing if we can prevent it. On the other hand, this seems like too much for us. This is really huge."


"Chase may be John David's son, and he may not. My God, what will happen to Chase if he isn't John David's?"

"He'll still be Poppy's son, so that means..."

"Her parents will get him? Absolutely not."

"But we don't have the right to lie about it!"

"No! But we can't take Chase away from John David!"

"But he has another father! A real father!"

"Maybe John David is the real father. Maybe John David is subject B."

We both took a deep breath. "I say we burn this piece of paper," I said. I looked at my sister-in-law steadily.

"I say we should sleep on it and talk to Aubrey tomorrow," Melinda countered, neatly reversing her trend of a few moments before.

I was sorely tempted to grab it from her hand and rip it to shreds, as I had the repulsive pictures. Why the hell had I remembered the cushion on the chair? John David would never in a million years have messed with that cushion. If it had crinkled when he sat on it, he still wouldn't have opened it up, an opinion I based simply on John David's being a man.

Well, the deed had been done, and we were the possessors of yet another piece of unpleasant knowledge.

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