Her hands had been folded across her heart, a crystal rosary artistically intertwined between her fingers. Someone had given her nails a pearl-pink manicure. Touching her cold skin briefly (was it warmer than when I’d last touched it last Thursday?) and turned away, heading for an alcove from which I could gather my wits and watch.
I don’t know why I felt so self-conscious except that, at 23, I still retained many adolescent ideas. The notion that I was under constant scrutiny was one of them.
Nor was I completely wrong. Abigail’s Belle Vue neighbor, Rick, had walked in and was staring at me, his eyes glassy with tears held in check. I nodded and turned away, walking down a short hall thinking to find a ladies room. Instead I ran smack into Michael Fish, Judith’s husband.
“Michael,” I said. “What are you doing here?”
It took him a minute to recognize me. Even then, he did not place me at Arborgate, but, rather, as Kevin’s dinner companion.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Nora Cahill,” I said. “We met the other night at the Peasant and-”
“Of course, Kevin’s new friend.” He offered his hand and I took it in a brief handshake.
“Yes,” I said, warmed by the designation. “But I also work for your wife.”
I laughed nervously, biting back an impulse to ask how many wives he had.
“Yes, at Arborgate.”
“Oh. Oh! You’re the one who found her.” His body turned slightly toward the coffin. We both glanced into the viewing room, catching Kevin’s eye. He smiled slightly and gave a gesture. If he’d had a glass in his hand, it might have been a toast. As it was, he simply waved slightly and smiled as if glad to see us together. His lips moved, mouthing words I could not understand.
“What’s he saying?” I asked Michael.
“Take care?” he said. “I’m not sure. Well, let’s get a seat. They should be starting by now.”
“There’s a lot more people here than I would have thought,” I whispered as we brushed past a covey of uniformed Delta flight attendants. I wonder if they’re like cops and send representatives when one of their own go down.”
“She didn’t die in a plane crash,” he said. “But you may be right.”
“There’s a guy from her last apartment,” I said, pointing to Rick. “I think he had feelings for her.”
“Is he the one she was seeing at Arborgate?”
“No. We think that was the new owner.”
“Ken Eberhard?” He whistled thoughtfully. “That’s interesting.”
“Why? Because he’s married?”
“Well, that doesn’t seem to bother him. He’s been seeing a lot of Judith. You know we’re separated, I guess.”
“I did. I’m sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry about. It’s amicable. But I don’t like Ken much.”
“Proprietorial, probably. I’m a dog in the manger. Seriously, I’m the only one who worries about Judith. Everyone thinks she’s so together.”
“You’re right. I sure do.”
“Of course, compared to you, she is.”
“I mean, she’s older and a mother. She’s very in charge but she’s hasn’t always been. That’s all I’m saying. In another ten years, you’ll be just like her.”
“But what is that? Competent on the outside and a marshmallow inside?”
“That’s not what I mean. It’s just that I know her vulnerabilities. I’m afraid Ken might know them,too. I’m not so sure I trust him with her. He strikes me as a predatory kind of guy.”
“He certainly seems to go after what he wants.”
“But I think he just wants Judith to work with him. She’s smart and ambitious.”
“She is that. But what about Abigail? From what Kevin tells me, she was a bit of a loose cannon.”
“What does that mean?”
“That she didn’t really know what she wanted but would get all fired up anyway. She was impulsive, he said.”
“Did you know her personally?”
“Not at all. Kevin talks about her, that’s all.”
“Are you guys good friends?” I asked, but before he could answer, strains of organ music hushed us all and the service began.