Ginger arrived at my house with Coke, crackers, and a selection of teas and cookies. She was dressed in comfortable clothes and carried a duffle bag as if she was prepared to spend the night on my couch.
“Start from the beginning” she said after she forced room temperature soda and saltine crackers on me. She just didn’t understand that my earlier episode of vomiting was due to emotion and not an upset stomach.
I did start from the beginning. I went all the way back to the Saturday before Ginger’s soiree when I last saw Libby. I told her everything including my time spent with and worrying about Guy Hanson, and about helping Herbie Carmichael with the Hope Wilson case. I had moments of Déjà vu where it seemed that I had already told Ginger parts of my story and had received the same response from her. Ginger was a good friend not to mention that I was repeating myself.
Two hours went by while we talked, drank tea, and ate cookies. Finally, I had met my fill of all the awful things that had happened lately and wanted a reprieve from the conversation. I thought a bathroom break would not only do my bladder good but would also be a good opportunity to reboot our conversation. This was one of those times in my life where I agreed with Katie Scarlett O’Hara when she uttered those profound words “I can’t think about that right now. If I do I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
I had just closed the door and was undressing when I heard a blood curdling scream come from the living room. “Brinkley!” Ginger screamed with fear in her voice. “Help, help!”
In my mind I saw Eddie and Daisey injured, or worse, and Ginger screaming at the sight of their bloodied bodies. I came flying out of the bathroom while at the same time trying to pull up my pants. It was all I could do to stay upright much less get to the living room any faster. What I saw made me shriek too, only not in fear. I busted out in uncontrollable laughter and was forced to run back into the bathroom to avoid an embarrassing situation right after rescuing Ginger from the grips of the missing feline.
I was still laughing uncontrollably, with tears running down my face, when I came back into the living room. Ginger was now settled down but still breathing heavily from the scare. I couldn’t rid my mind of the image of the kitten sprawled out on Ginger’s head. Its claws were dug in to avoid a fall as Ginger spun around screaming and twisting her head trying to dislodge the tiny feline.
I wanted to stop laughing but I just couldn’t. Eventually Ginger joined in and we giggled like school girls until she needed to use the bathroom to avoid an embarrassing moment too. She retold the story several times of sitting on the sofa and having an unknown, fuzzy, purring alien land on her head. She had forgotten about the cat and initially thought it was something creepy, like a rat.
When Ginger returned, still grinning, I decided to take the opportunity to redirect our previous conversation. “So, tell me about your trip to Anchorage. Wasn’t Nano Nosh just the coolest thing you’d ever seen?” I asked as I stroked the frightened cat.
“Brinkley, I think we need to talk about the cupcake store. And, keep that cat away from me” she said with a wink of the eye.
“OK” I answered feeling as though what she was about to say certainly was not going to be OK.
“When I was in Anchorage I did some snooping, ah make that research, and I’m no longer sure that Kodiak Kupcake would be sustainable in the long run. You know how it goes in this town
I was actually surprised that Ginger turned on the idea. I thought we had it all worked out on paper and that it was a viable business plan; however, Ginger did have a good point. I had seen exactly what she described where a new business can’t keep up with demand at first but, within a few months, they are left wondering what happened to that momentum as people return to their old patterns.
“Ah, sugar, don’t look so sad. I did think it was a good idea; it’s just that I am not sure that Kodiak can support a single product store. We have the same seven thousand people in town everyday and while I do believe it’s possible to sell a couple hundred of them a day, I believe there is another way to sell cupcakes and more.”
She had my complete attention. “Tell me more.”
“Well, you know the liquor store in the square, the one with the drive-up window? It’s for sale.” She shook her head and ran her fingers through her hair as a chill fell over her entire body. The memory of the cat replayed in her head.
My confusion must have shown on my face because Ginger asked me to hold on while she explained further. Ginger’s idea was to buy the business and liquor license. The space was large and after talking to the owner, she had learned that his business was very basic and he just didn’t need the space. Her plan was to lease back a quarter of the building to him and let him continue to sell beer and liquor as a drive-through store. The other two third of the space could be an upscale wine and cheese shop. She also wanted to offer imported beers, savory bites like we’d seen at Nano Nosh, fresh pastas, breads, ready to cook prepared entrees, and possibly a dessert bar. She said we could carve out a little area for a separate cupcake corner or we could incorporate the idea into the business model. She made it clear that she was not trying to usurp the cupcake business but thought we would have a better chance with a broader offering.
I agreed to consider it. “Won’t this take a much bigger investment?” I asked because I was concerned about sinking so much of my modest savings into a new business.
“Yes, if we want to do it right we will need to invest in chic fixtures and decor. Add the cost of the building and the liquor license and we will have a real financial investment. Renting a space to the drive-up package store will help but it is still an expensive endeavor. But, lucky for us we already have an interested investor.”
“We do?” I was curious about our mystery investor but I was even more curious how Ginger had come up with this plan and the details so quickly.
“Yup we do. And he is willing to give us whatever we need.”
“Who is this guy?” I asked hoping that Ginger was going to say he was some anonymous silent partner. “And what will he want in return for his investment? Will he want to call the shots? I don’t want to just end up working for someone else’s business.”
“Don’t worry Brinkley, we will have free reign.” Normally I don’t test my friends honesty, but I let myself read that she was telling me the truth. Even with that validation, it was only her belief.
“How can you be so sure? Maybe he is talking that way now but….”
Ginger interrupted me with “I know because I am sleeping with him.”
Her statement stunned me. No, stunned was too weak of a word. I was bewildered. “You’re having an affair?”
Ginger raised her eyebrows and winked. “No, silly, Matt has offered to back us.”
As much as I love and respect Ginger, working with a married couple sounded scary to me. Before I could verbalize my fears Ginger explained that Matt was not interested in being involved in the business but willing to finance it. We continued to talk about the details until Ginger’s phone rang. It was the man himself, Matt.
“Brinkley, Matt received a sizeable inheritance and has done very well with his investments over the years. We don’t have kids so why not spend a little to do something interesting? Especially if has the possibilities of increasing that investment. We already have a house that is paid off and healthy retirement accounts from the state. If we fall on our face it won’t be the end of the world. Plus, he was impressed by the enthusiasm shown by the strawberry delivery.” I told myself to stop the truth checking.
“Are you sure?” I didn’t want to take advantage of my friend.
“You don’t have to take my word, you can ask him yourself. He is on his way over to take us to supper at The Beefeater.”
“You’re going out dressed like that? It’s just not like you.”
“No, silly girl. That’s why I brought this” she said as she unzipped the duffle bag exposing clothing and shoes. I should have known better.
I threw Eddie & Daisey in the backyard while we changed for dinner. I walked out of my room at the same time Ginger came out of my extra bedroom where she changed clothes. Ginger is a large-framed woman who wears fashion as well as any plus size model. She knows no fear and even though she is solidly middle aged, will wear one or two pieces that are cutting edge. Tonight, she was wearing a wide-belted taffeta shirtdress reminiscent of the fifties. The top half had a tailored fit, a wide collar, and wide buttons. The bottom was a flounce skirt, just above the knee, that helped elongate and slim her legs. True to Ginger’s style, the piece de resistance was a fabulous pair of shoes.
“Wow, those are some shoes” I said as I bent down for a better look. I’d never seen anything like them. They were five-inch-high heeled booties but they were not made of solid material; instead, they were an open grid of braided leather.
” They’re Christian’s” she replied with a smile.
“Why are you wearing Christian’s shoes and does she know?” I asked to annoy her.
“No, Christian Louboutin is the designer silly. You know, the ones with the red soles.” We were interrupted by a car pulling into the driveway.
“Quickly, before Matt gets to the door I just want to thank you for coming to my rescue. I really needed to be reminded that I am not a murderer and that things will eventually calm down with Mary Margaret, one way or the other. And you are right; helping Herbie with the Hope Wilson case will be a good diversion for me.”
As I went to the door I noticed there were two cars in the driveway and neither was Matt’s. One was Tuesday’s but the other was a mystery. I watched closely as both Tuesday and a woman that I did not recognize removed foil containers from their vehicles. It looked like food deliveries.
“What’s up girl?” I asked Tuesday and tried to get a better look at the woman behind her. The woman turned out to be Agnes, Mary Margaret’s mother. “Why, hello Agnes. What a pleasant surprise. Can I help with anything?”
“I think we’ve got it if you can just hold the door open” she replied.
Tuesday and Agnes made their way to the kitchen with each hand holding one of those disposable foil baking dishes. They deposited the containers on the kitchen counter then Tuesday went back to the car and brought in a grocery bag of paper products and plastic utensils.
“Are we having a picnic?” Ginger asked.
Tuesday spoke first. “My mother heard what happened and wanted to send over some food. She thought you might have visitors or family and wouldn’t feel like cooking.” She uncovered the first dish and simply said “adobo”. The second dish had two sections; one containing lumpia and the other pancit. “The lumpia is why I am so late. Making them is a real process but my mom insisted. And I know how you love her pancit.” She was right; pancit was my favorite Filipino food.
“She didn’t have to go to all this trouble” I said. I could hear the disappointment in the way Ginger plopped down on the sofa. She was all set for a night out on the town.
“Actually, yes she did. She is an old-fashioned Pilipino woman and that is what she does. Brinkley for her it was no bother. She lives for this” she said and winked.
“Well I am the same way only I’m an old-fashioned Native woman” Agnes chirped in. “I brought a piroq and halibut salad.
As I expressed my gratitude for their generosity and helped set up my kitchen counters as a buffet, Matt appeared in the door also carrying a trifle dish of southern-style banana pudding. I thanked and hugged him and put the pudding in the refrigerator. Ginger removed her fabulous Christian Louboutin shoes.
There was so much food that we made a few phone calls and before long my house was buzzing with friends and neighbors. I was reminded of how fortunate I was to live and be accepted in a small town where so many people treat you like family. This is especially important for someone like me with no family to speak of.
I sensed that everyone wanted to hear the details of what had happened with me and John Sinclair, although they were all too polite to ask outright, so I asked them if they would like to hear my side of the story. It was a unanimous yes. Ginger, who had already discussed the events at length with me earlier, used it as an excuse to go home but urged Matt to stay and get the first-hand version.
In retelling the events of last night, I tried to be as careful as I could and I watched Agnes’s body language for clues. After all, her daughter was also injured in the incident. After my brief recount of the dark dining, the attempted break-in, the flowers and the ambush on the boat, my little audience had plenty of questions for me. When people started to disperse I asked Agnes to stay so that we could talk in private. She agreed.
I started to apologize to Agnes for what had happened to Mary Margaret but she put her finger over her lips and instructed me to “shush”.
“But all is not well if she is not seeing me” I explained.
“Brinkley, I don’t believe that’s Mary Margaret. I believe it is her husband. Joe isn’t letting me see her either.” I was stunned by her remark. One of the first things I learned in advocacy training as a volunteer for the women’ shelter was how a controlling or abusive partner might try to separate his victim from friends and family. I always knew that something wasn’t quite right in their relationship, although Mary Margaret never shared any details, and I was hoping Joe wasn’t an abusive husband.
My disapproval must have shown on my face because she replied that Joe was simply trying to protect her the only way he knew how. For the second time in one night I used my gift on a friend. Agnes believed her words but I wasn’t as sure. I didn’t want to cause her any more grief so I smiled and nodded in agreement.
When everyone was gone, and my house was back in order, I called Herbie Carmichael and told him that I was back on the case and committed to helping him catch whoever let young Hope die. I was about to turn out the lights and go to bed when headlights appeared in my driveway and the ratties sounded the alert. I peeked through the window and saw Ginger.
“You didn’t think I was going to let you be alone tonight after everything that’s happened, did you?” she said as she entered the door with duffle bag in hand. “Plus, someone needs to act as a buffer between you and that killer cat. Oh, by the way, I went by the library on my way home and let your genealogy group know you would not be there tonight.”
“Thank you for doing that. It completely slipped my mind. I appreciate you coming back. I really didn’t want to be alone tonight. I wouldn’t have slept a wink. Plus, I just called Herbie and told him I am willing to help with the Hope Wilson case. Perhaps we could brainstorm on how I can get that so-called best friend of hers to talk to me. Oh, and Agnes told me Joe is also running interference and she’s not able to see or talk to Mary Margaret either.” Ginger nodded and asked, “does that cat have a name?”
“No” I said as I realized the cat was going to need a name and better soon than later.
“How about Cujo? Or, is that reserved for crazed canines only?” she asked.
“She’s not crazed. She is just young.” I started to share with her that I was thinking of naming the kitten Libby but decided to think on the idea a little longer.
“Got popcorn?” she asked.