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.That was some years after I left.I was already in the States by then.'I was disappointed, and she went into a coughing spell and could hardly talk.'Sorry.' She coughed.'This is when you hate living alone.''You don't have anyone looking in on you?''No.''What about food?''I manage.''Why don't I bring you something,' I said.'I wouldn't hear of it.''I'll help you if you'll help me,' I added.'Do you have any files on Birmingham? Concerning the work going on when you were there? Anything you could look up?''Buried somewhere in this house, I'm sure,' she said.'Unbury them and I'll bring stew.'I was out the door in five minutes, running to my car.Heading home, I got several quarts of my homemade stew out of the freezer, then I filled the tank with gas before going east on 64.I told Marino on the car phone what I was doing.'You've really lost it this time,' he exclaimed.'Drive over a hundred miles to take someone food? You coulda called Domino's.''That's not the point.And believe me, I have one.' I put sunglasses on.'There may be something here.She may know something that could help.''Yo, let me know,' he said.'You got your pager on, right?' 'Right.'Traffic was light this time of day, and I kept the cruise control on sixty-nine so I did not get a ticket.In less than an hour, I was bypassing Williamsburg, and about twenty minutes later, following directions Crowder had given me for her address in Newport News.The neighborhood was called Brandon Heights, where the economic class was mixed, and houses got bigger as they got nearer the James River.Hers was a modest two-story frame recently painted eggshell white, the yard and landscaping well maintained.I parked behind a van and collected the stew, my pocketbook and briefcase slung over a shoulder.When Phyllis Crowder came to the door, she looked like hell, her face pale, and eyes burning with fever.She was dressed in a flannel robe and leather slippers that looked like they might once have belonged to a man.'I can't believe how nice you are,' she said as she opened the door.'Either that or crazy.''Depends on who you ask.'I stepped inside, pausing to look at framed photographs along the dark paneled entrance hall.Most of them were of people hiking and fishing and had been taken in long years past.My eyes were fixed on one, an older man wearing a pale blue hat and holding a cat as he grinned around a corncob pipe.'My father,' Crowder said.'This was where my parents lived, and my mother's parents were here before that.That's them there.' She pointed.'When my father's business started doing poorly in England, they came here and moved in with her family.''And what about you?' I said.'I stayed on, was in school.'I looked at her and did not think she was as old as she wanted me to believe.'You're always trying to make me assume you're a dinosaur compared to me,' I said.'But somehow I don't think so.''Maybe you just wear the years better than I do.' Her feverish dark eyes met mine.'Is any of your family still living?' I asked, perusing more photographs.'My grandparents have been gone about ten years, my father about five.After that, I came out here every weekend to take care of Mother.She hung on as long as she could.''That must have been hard with your busy career,' I said, as I looked at an early photograph of her laughing on a boat, holding up a rainbow trout.'Would you like to come in and sit down?' she asked.'Let me put this in the kitchen.''No, no, show me the way and save your strength,' I insisted.She led me through a dining room that did not appear to have been used in years, the chandelier gone, exposed wires hanging out over a dusty table, and draperies replaced by blinds.By the time we walked into the large, old-fashioned kitchen, the hair was rising along my scalp and neck, and it was all I could do to remain calm as I set the stew on the counter.'Tea?' she asked.She was hardly coughing now, and though she might be ill, this wasn't why she initially had stayed away from her job.'Not a thing,' I said.She smiled at me but her eyes were penetrating, and as we sat at the breakfast table, I was frantically trying to figure out what to do.What I suspected couldn't be right, or should I have figured it out sooner? I had been friendly with her for more than fifteen years.We had worked on numerous cases together, shared information, commiserated as women.In the old days, we drank coffee together and smoked.I had found her charming, brilliant, and certainly never sensed anything sinister [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]