I found Susan sitting in one of her sister’s white leather chairs, tears streaming down her face. On her lap she held an Eastern Airlines flight attendant uniform and an age-stained Raggedy Ann.
“Oh, Abby,” she wept, her eyes traveling around the leather and chrome-furnished room. “Oh, Abby, you poor little idiot.”
Her resemblance to Abigail had faded a little. Susan had a firmer chin and a more determined cunning, but the two were remarkably alike: pale skin the color of paper, hair so blonde it seemed white. They shared unhealthy look of Appalachian-bred mill workers, yet I knew they had grown up just south of Atlanta. “Who are you?” she asked.
“Nora Cahill? The manager here? I rented Abigail this apartment. I—“
“You’re the one who found her?”
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” I said, kneeling close enough to touch the arm that held the doll. “Yes, I found her last, no, I’m sorry, two nights ago.” It felt like a week.
She inhaled deeply and with it seemed to suck up the strength to get on with her allotted task. “Look at this crap,” she said, standing up and waving an arm at Abigail’s rented furniture. “What was she thinking? She had a house full of beautiful antiques and she rented this… junk.”
“Her husband’s house. Kevin’s house. The man she just had to leave. So what if he was a--- oh, well. I guess it wasn’t ever going to work out. You’d have thought he could have spared a few lousy sticks of furniture, wouldn’t you? I mean, really. This is so unfair.”
“But it was just temporary, wasn’t it?” If I remembered correctly, Abigail had told me she and her husband were only separated.
“You call a year temporary?”
“A year? I had the impression she’d just left him”
“Now why would you think that?”
I tried to remember the dates on Abigail’s application. I’d read her file before showing it to Detective Boeker, but all I could picture was a blur of ink and the loopy, immature handwriting of the average student.
“I’ll have to check her application, but I could have sworn she listed a 5th Street address?” I remembered it because it was the first numbered street address I’d encountered in Atlanta, which even in 1976 seemed littered with Peachtrees, though no one ever seemed to live on the famous street.
“That’s Kevin’s address, all right, but she hasn’t lived there for a year.”
“Where did she live?”
“I have no idea. She spent some of her time in Boston, at the layover apartment we used.”
“Do you work for Eastern too?”
“Delta,” she said. “But I fly the northeastern route too.”
“An airline family.”
She looked at the uniform she had laid across the chair.
“Do you think it’s tacky to bury her in her uniform?”
“I don’t know. It makes me think she died while working.”
“That’s a good point. It’s just that Abigail changed her style so often, her uniform was the only thing that stayed the same.”
“My sister works for the airlines, too. T.W.A. She has tons of clothes. She says she grew up in a uniform and likes to buy as many other clothes as she can. I think she’d want to be buried in her mink.” I made a mental note to ask Caroline if this was so.
“Well, we never talked about this. I guess we should have. Would you help me pick out something else?”
Would I?I held myself from dashing up the stairs. One of the tackiest things about me (and there are plenty, I have to admit) is my nosy streak. I can’t spend an hour in someone else’s house without looking in every drawer and cabinet. In a way, this job is either perfect for me or it will prove as potentially disastrous as an alcoholic bartender.