Monday, May 26, 2008
“You just missed Susan,” said Judith, her hand still on the telephone. “She’s going to pay rent through January.”
“Why?” I was surprised at how disappointed I felt.
“Obviously she wants time to…” Judith waved her hand in the air, clearly as bemused as I was. “Whatever she wants time for. Who knows? It’s possible there’s a problem with the ex-husband.”
Now would have been a good time for me to tell Judith about meeting Kevin (and about seeing her husband at the Pleasant Peasant.) But I held back. For one thing, this was the first bit of private business I’d had in ages and I wanted to keep it that way. For another, well, bosses are a bit like parents in the amount of power they have and how they choose to deploy it when you least expect it. The thing is, I wasn’t sure I liked giving up the office so quickly when Judith returned. She’d come in and sat down in her chair and wasn’t going to leave it. Instead, I was going to leave it.
“Did she say what she wanted me to do?” I asked
“My impression was she wanted you to do nothing. At least, not yet.”
“Did she say that she didn’t want me to start cleaning?”
Startled, Judith glanced at me. “I can’t remember exactly but that was my impression. She did say she didn’t want anyone going in there for a few days. At least, not until after the funeral.”
“That’s a switch,” I said. “She was so adamant the other day. It was like she couldn’t wait for everything to be over with.”
Judith sat back in her chair, mulling this over. “I think I can understand that, can’t you? It’s part of denying Abigail’s death. Now that she’s had a little time to absorb the shock, she can think a little. Or at least realize she shouldn’t be making any quick decisions.”
I nodded. “And who knows what the police told her.”
“That’s right! I hadn’t thought about the police. Or Abigail’s ex-husband. I suppose he has a say here.”
“He’s actually not her ex-husband, after all. They hadn’t divorced.”
“He’ll have a lot of say,” she said.
“If he wants to.”
Even now I believe I would have used that moment to tell Judith about meeting Kevin, but we were interrupted by the telephone. She chose to answer it herself, nodding at me to leave, then held up a finger, “Wait,” she whispered, nodding her head, as if the person on the other end could see her. “Ok,” she said to the receiver and hanging up.
“I’m impressed,” she said. “Things are moving along. Before you leave, would you call Greshams and order flowers for Abigail’s funeral. It’s at Patterson’s.”
“So, she really is dead,” I quipped.
“Don’t be tacky,” she snapped back, but with a grin. “We’ll make an Atlantan of you yet.”
Not a Southerner, but an Atlantan. It was to be the most I could hope for.
I decided to forsake Judith’s rule about calling three vendors before selecting either the least expensive or the most valuable. Instead, I pulled the Gresham’s card from Mr. Eberhart’s Christmas basket and ordered an arrangement of white camellias with apricot ribbons and greenery. The apricot was the only thing I knew Abigail would like. It would match her lingerie.
“Should I bill them to Buford Complex?” asked the florist. “They’re sending a wreath,” he said, his gnat-like voice implying that our smaller arrangement, though more age appropriate, was somehow cheap. “Buford’s sending a wreath?” I asked, startled. They, and by they I meant Barbara, Mr. Eberhart and the girls I hadn’t met yet, knew nothing of Abigail. This was a gesture, indeed.
“I understand the lady was a tenant of some standing,” said the florist.
“She lived here,” I said. “You can send our bill here, thank you.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said. “Do let me know if there’s anything else we can do.”
“Actually, can you tell me if you’re sending flowers from anyone else?” Before he could tell me to mind my own business, I hurried on. “I believe some of the family will be coming up from Valdosta and will need a florist.” This was nonsense, of course, everyone knew how to wire flowers from their own vendors, but it did stop my man in his tracks.
“Well, well, well, let me see. Kevin Snowe? Her?”
“Her husband, yes. And Susan? Her sister? Susan. I’ve forgotten her last name. We met briefly Christmas Eve.”
“That’s it. My, you’ve got the whole affair.”
“We’ve worked with Patterson’s for years, my dear. I think that’s it, however. But you be sure to tell anyone else we’ll be happy to help them.”
“Oh, I will,” I said.
“A tenant of some standing, eh?” said Judith, when I related the conversation. “That is odd.” We stared at each other for a moment then burst into laughter. “Barbara is a bit of a drama queen, but you’ll see that for yourself.”
“I guess it does seem exciting to have a suspicious death on the premises,” I said. No one thought that more strongly than I.
“You’d better get going before something else happens. Don’t forget your notebook.”
“Got it right here,” I said.
At my desk, I checked my steno pad for phone numbers for Kevin and Susan. I could call them from home or from the Buford complex if I had a chance.
As I closed the desk drawer, I spotted Abigail’s keys. It was the set I’d found for Detective Boeker in the key box. Without thinking too much about it, I slipped them in my raincoat pocket thinking I’d return them the next time I had a chance (i.e., when I was alone in the office).
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
And here's the first peony! Spring is long and turbulent this year, but that's exactly how I like it. I'm glad I snapped this on Tuesday because after last night's severe storms the blossom was as over as an unloved heart.
I happen to like graffitti. This poem was stenciled onto the Freedom Path near Little Five Points (or, as some of us insist on saying, Petit Cinq Pointe)
Monday, May 12, 2008
The office, which I had to keep open until noon on Sundays, should be quiet. (I say that every day, don’t I?) As soon as possible I wanted to begin the sorting at Abigail’s. This time, I would be looking for traces of Kevin. A crush. I laughed. No, I giggled. You’d better keep this to yourself, Nora, you goof.
But when I reached the model, I found Judith waiting for me.
Her big eyes, which had been so round and encouraging, so soft, were now quite steely. The bit of sadness I’d thought reflected an understanding of human nature was gone. She seemed angry. Had she found something amiss in the office? Had I left the coffee on? The vacuum plugged in? Rented to another messy victim?
Judith had a way, a helpful way, of eying me without seeming to and either nodding or faintly sighing. She was always impeccable. I wanted to be impeccable. I never would be, but I tried. I’d stopped mixing sportswear with office polyester. At her instigation I had traded my three homemade jumpers (too Mary Hartmann) for gabardine circle skirts and coordinating sweaters and leather boots. Today, I wore “dress” jeans. Was it my clothes that made her look at me as if I smelled?
But then she smiled and everything changed. The Judith I counted on and looked up to was back and we could all be safe again.
“The office looks great,” she said. “You’ve been working very hard.”
She’d been told about Abigail, she said. George had reached her at Big Canoe with the news. She had cut her vacation short and hurried home.
“I just can’t imagine what you’ve been through,” she said. “Do you even know how stressful these last days must have been for you?”
Why, no. I wasn’t in the habit of knowing how stressful things were for me. I was just doing my job, I said. I was just plowing on. That sounds brave, but the fact was I had my head too far up my ass most of the time to know how anything affected me.
Judith didn’t want the gory details, though I would have loved to tell her about Abigail’s waxy skin and the thundering of police feet in my head.
“I don’t want you overdoing it,” she said. “You need a day to just be. Just be quiet and relax.”
“I could get started on Abigail’s apartment,” I said. “I promised her sister to start packing it up.”
“She’s paying me,” I assured her. “I was going to start tonight.”
“That was kind of you, Nora. But I wish you had thought it through. Does this seem appropriate to you? Under the circumstances?”
She leaned back and looked at me as if wondering why she’d hired such a dolt.
“You mean, because—“I faltered, “of the police?”
“No, I mean because you work here. It’s so easy to get over-involved, Nora. And then find yourself in an awkward situation. I don’t think you understand that you are affected by this and need to pull back and take care of yourself.”
“I’m just trying to be helpful.”
“I know, but you don’t have to be. You can be helpful here. You can be helpful to yourself.”
She wanted to send me back to my own townhouse to listen to music and bake cookies. Or go shopping, she said. Then she handed me an envelope with $50 in it. George wanted me to have it.
“It’s a Christmas bonus, which, believe me, they do not give to every one. I’ve never gotten one. But George thinks you deserve something for your performance over the last few days.” She shook her head and shuddered. “I would take this money,” she said, her voice soft and motherly, “and spend every penny.” She laughed. “Get a new outfit,” she said. “Because you’re going to need it.”
For the funeral, I wondered.
“Because I’m sending you to Buford Highway tomorrow.” She made it sound like the world’s treat. “Ken’s as impressed as George. Of course, I’m not a bit surprised. I knew who I hired, but they didn’t think you had it in you to run a complex alone.”
She let this sink in. Sure enough, my Irish temper swelled. Momentarily.
“Ken wants to see you work with Barbara. Their girl has been talking about going back to school and he’s trying to work something out. It could be that you can work part time over there and part time here.”
“But what about my role here?”
“Once we’re fully leased here and Ken’s overseeing both properties, he’s not going to need two full-time people. But he might be able to use you on both complexes. Plus, he’s already looking for more property and I want you around for that.”
“That’s between us. Don’t say anything to the Buford girls.”
“I won’t. When do I need to go?”
“They definitely want you all day tomorrow, but if you really want to make an impression, I’d go this afternoon. Go to Lenox Square or Phipps. Buy a nice outfit, then take Lenox Road back. On the way, make a left on Buford Highway and go about two miles. The complex is on the right. Walk the property. Drop in for a visit. You can find out what they want, get some of the floor plans. That way they won’t be able to dump you in the file room and forget about you.”
“Should I mystery shop?” I asked.
She shook her head. “God, no, they’d think we were spying.” She smiled at me, widening her eyes, but with the wicked gleam that charmed Tim and all the other men on the complex. “Of course, we are going to spy on them, but they don’t need to know it.”
Nothing else could have gotten me there with so much enthusiasm. Office espionage would be much more fun than cleaning Abigail’s kitchen.
Friday, May 9, 2008
Friday, May 2, 2008
The front of the Pleasant Peasant was small – a plate glass window and glass door, darkened by heavy curtains and discreet lettering. But when we walked in, I felt wrapped in cheerful warmth. The room, narrow and occupied with a long bar running down the right and banquettes along the right, with white linen-covered tables in the center, was both larger than I’d been led to believe and crowded with the most promising looking people I’d yet to encounter in this self-conscious city.
No one was fat. No one had a bad haircut. No one was caught up in Christmas. This was where the escapees had come for their own celebration.
Kevin waved to a good-looking man at the bar, motioned to a table near the front and led me to it. “I’m going to put Hazel in the office,” he said, scooping up the dog in his arms.
Alone, I wiggled my toes, enjoying the warmth return. I wasn’t really dressed for the chilly walk, but I wouldn’t have changed a minute of the last hour. I glanced at my stainless steel Seiko, a graduation present from my sister I would wear for the next 30 years. I’d been off the Arborgate property for two hours! And now we would eat and talk. I would be out for an evening! I felt like a little girl escaping the castle. Now that was an odd way to describe an unexpected pleasure, wasn’t it?
Kevin returned before I could pursue this thought too far.
“You look like a little girl on a treat,” he said.
“I was just thinking I hadn’t been off the property like this since I got the job. It’s fun.”
“You’re in the real Atlanta now,” he said. And I believed him. This was where I belonged, I thought. A waiter in black pants, blue shirt and a very clean white apron girdled around his narrow hips, brought wine and a menu written out in tiny letters on a small chalkboard he propped before us. He recited the entire menu without once looking at his chalkboard. Kevin ordered two French onion soups. Judith recommended this dish. It was popular in New York that year as well and stores were selling soup bowls for it (along with quiche and cheesecake pans.) Those were the foods of 1976.
“That might fill you up. We’ll order another course if it doesn’t.”
“And you’ll want to save room for dessert,” said the waiter, whose name, he’d announced, was David.
Moments later he was back with the wine and a basket of assorted breads and rolls that included a tiny cinnamon bun, a slice of date nut bread, an Italian breadstick and mini-baguette. The butter was soft and had been whipped with honey. This evening would be my first, but by no means my last, experience with trendy Atlanta restaurants and although my tastes would out pace this restaurant eventually, The Pleasant Peasant would prove to be the one to create my standards.
When our meal was set before us, it proved to be everything Judith had promised.
“My boss’s husband works here,” I said. If Kevin was a regular, and I could see by the nods and waves of the servers and some of the customers that he was, he would know Michael. He did. He even looked around as if Michael might be working tonight. “I think he’s got Nick with him tonight,” I said and wondered why I sounded less sure than I was. “I saw them leave Arborgate together Thursday morning.”
“Where’s Judith?” He reached for the last cinnamon roll, asking, with a lift of his eyebrows if I wanted it. I wanted him to have it and shook my head no. He unrolled it bite by bite, as if it was dessert.
“Big Canoe,” I said, as if the unfamiliar words rolled off my lips every weekend.
“What does that mean?”
“That’s where the smart money’s going. Big Canoe and Lake Hartwell.”
“Have you been?”
He shook his head, popping the last bit of bun into his mouth. He licked his fingers, too. He ate his meal here as if he’d been sitting in his own kitchen, but cleanly. Easily. He had excellent manners but he still ate the way he wanted. No self-conscious mannerisms. Unlike me.
“Big Canoe is for white guys.”
“You’re a white guy.”
He shook his head. “Not the same animal.”
He laughed. “You could say that.” He smiled at me, tilting his head a little, as if wondering, in the nicest way, what to do with a girl like me. Men have been looking at me like this since I graduated college. It was a look I rather enjoyed, as it seemed to come from the pages of a romantic novel. My novel, or rather, my romance. The next gesture should be a gentle headshake, followed by an embrace. I blushed, reminding myself that I was sitting opposite a divorced widower, as it were. And one who might be responsible for his estranged wife’s death.
“My money, such as it is, is right here in Midtown.”
The onion soup was satisfyingly loaded with Swiss cheese and dark rich broth and though Kevin offered to split an entrée (“Trout’s great”) I demurred. My subscription to MS magazine notwithstanding, the perpetual princess within assumed Kevin would pick up the tab for this dinner. Still, I couldn’t be sure this would be the case and I was, by then, well launched on a credit history it would take some two decades to re-write. In fact, I had skipped from New York owing most of a college load, an American Express balance and about two months to Consolidated Edison. If I could have afforded regret, I would have been sorry.
Our waiter returned with the same little blackboard.
He flipped it over and recited a list of desserts, all of which seemed to consist of variations on pecan, chocolate and glaze. Kevin waved it away with a laugh. “You know what I want. Bring Nora the same. And two coffees.” The waiter laughed and pranced off.
“I love this place,” I said, suddenly. It was true.
“And you always will,” he said, raising his glass in a toast.
Dessert was hot apple and walnut pie smothered under a thick crust of crumble. A scoop of cinnamon ice cream nestled alongside. It was hearty and huge. I ate every bite before sitting back against the banquette with a groan. We were sipping coffee when Michael Byrd edged his way among the diners and stopped before Kevin. I don’t believe he recognized or even saw me.
When Kevin introduced us, I was prepared to be treated as a stranger, but Michael surprised me with a warm smile. “You work with Judith!” he cried. “I just left her wondering how you had handled the crisis all by yourself. It looks like you were fine.”
At this news I felt myself flinch. I should be at the complex. The men laughed. “It’s Christmas!”
“Relax,” said Michael. “Even Judith takes a day off once in a while and you’ve been through a lot.” He glanced at Kevin then, including him in his sympathetic look.
“But she wasn’t supposed to be back until tomorrow night.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t think the weekend turned out so well.”
I thought he seemed awfully lighthearted about his ex-wife’s attempts to date again, but Judith did say they would always be friends. Michael didn’t seem to know about Kevin’s connection to Arborgate, and before either of us could tell him, he took off, distracted by friends at another table. When we left he was ensconced at the bar, chatting with a pair of elderly men.
We rescued Hazel from the kitchen and set off. The temperature had dropped again, which moved us along. At my car, Kevin waited as I unlocked the door and settled myself.
“Thanks for coming by,” he said. “You helped.”
As I maneuvered the large car along narrow 5th Street and turned north, I wondered. I had been dangerously nosy and lonely and too upset to know what my motives had been for driving into Abigail’s life. It had turned out well whatever my reasons. As I sped along the empty streets, past Pershing Point and Piedmont Hospital, the decrepit Brookwood Hotel, slowing down to make Biscayne Drive’s sharp left, I wondered what would happen with Kevin. I wanted to know him. I had to know him. The key to my future, at least the personal part, was not in Buckhead or along Buford Highway, but in the leafy streets of Midtown.