Maggie Dove's Detective Agency, page 15
When they were done, Maggie’s front door looked like a launchpad. Red lights beeped. “Just remember to put the code in when you get back in the house. And if anyone is holding a gun to you…well, that won’t happen,” Helen said. “You have a code in mind?” she asked.
Maggie was going to use “Juliet.” That was the code she always used, but something different seemed called for. So she typed in Grudge.
Walter was not happy the next day when Maggie walked into the confirmation class. He seemed to be doing an imitation of a very large sulking child. He stood up as soon as she arrived, moving from the head of the table to sit at her right hand.
“This is the teacher I was telling you about,” he said.
“Good morning,” she said to class.
They eyed her. One girl smiled. She was head of the Girl Scout troop, God bless her. One of those sweet, good-natured children. The rest of them looked at her suspiciously; Milo, Maggie noticed, was engrossed with his phone.
This was the closest she’d been to him. He was so thin and pale as to give off a blue aura, his veins adding the one true color to his frame. Under his eyes were bluish streaks. His long fingers fidgeted, reminding Maggie a little bit of the tarantula and its wandering legs. He wore a black suit and a thin black tie; she wasn’t sure if he wore it for mourning or fashion. More than anything, he seemed isolated. Although every person in the class was hyperaware of him, although he had a circle of girls around him and probably always would, he seemed very alone. Without his mother, he would be lonelier still. Maggie wished she could reach out to him, but they were hardly on the same level. She was a middle-aged Sunday School teacher and he was the coolest boy ever to walk into her class.
She knew everyone else there, although of course she’d known them as six-year-olds, which was a completely different proposition. Then they’d been enthusiastic and wanted goldfish and juice and hugged her, and now they looked at her warily, except for Walter, who looked at her implacably, as though hoping she would fail. One thing Maggie knew for sure was that no matter how cool kids were, they liked to have fun. So she brought out a secret weapon: her box of crayons.
“I’d like to get to know you a bit, and I wonder if you would do this for me. Pick a crayon that speaks to you,” she said.
“Speaks to you,” one boy repeated. Gemma’s son, she thought. When he was six he had such separation anxiety that his mother had to hold his hand all during class.
But he chose a color. Black, of course. Red went fast, then green, and then the box got to the end of the table and the prettiest of the girls handed the box to Milo and blushed. “For you?” she said.
They all waited to see which color he would choose. He had a strong sense of the dramatic for a 13-year-old. Outside two blue jays began to fight, chasing each other around the oak. Maggie wondered what she would do if Milo didn’t take a crayon. That would throw everything off. The mood would die. But fortunately he seemed to be seriously considering the colors. He picked pink.
She noticed the boys look at one another. A different boy, they would have teased, but not this one. She could almost see them all nod and decide to accept it. Then the moment broke and they got to work and there was coloring and laughter. She listened to them talk, waiting for the moment they forgot she was there and could be natural.
“How about you, Walter?” Maggie asked.
He seemed to fight an internal battle, which played out on his normally granite face. But he picked one, aquamarine.
Then she went around and had each one tell why they’d chosen their color. She was surprised, as she often was, by how thoughtful the responses were. The good-natured girl chose green, because it made her think of the Girl Scouts. The pretty girl chose violet, because she loved lilacs. Johnny Taylor chose black because it reminded him of a nun. There was always one. Walter chose aquamarine for the sea and because he liked sailing. Then they came to Milo, who’d sketched out an elaborate heart that seemed to be made of lace.
“It’s for my mother,” he said.
“That’s lovely,” she replied.
“So, Mrs. Dove,” Johnny Taylor asked, “what does this have to do with confirmation class?”
“Ah,” she said. “Thank you, Johnny. Let’s think about that. We’re working on our faith statements, which is how we understand our relationship with God. Which relates to how we see ourselves in the world. What do we believe? What do we love? Who are we? I believe that God created us all, but He likes us to decide who we want to be, and thinking about colors is just a first step into that. Does that make sense?”
They nodded, all except Milo, who was back on his phone.
“The more you love the world and the colors around you and who you are, the more you can love God, I believe.”
They talked about that for a while, and then she pulled out the official confirmation curriculum and they read from that, and then class was over. She wanted to make sure she had a chance to talk to Milo, and she asked him to stay for a moment, but Walter refused to leave. He bustled around, tidying up, and she wondered if this was a ploy to stop her from talking to Milo, but then she realized he had something on his mind. He stalked over to Maggie. He looked her in the eye and said, “You’re a good teacher.” She knew it cost him a lot to say that and she appreciated it. She doubted she would have been so graceful. Finally Walter left and she was alone with Milo.
“Thanks for staying,” she said.
He shrugged. His shoulders hunched forward as though in prayer, but she knew he was simply on the phone.
He was only thirteen, but he was also the child of a rock star. Which meant he was a child of privilege and probably old beyond his years. He’d watched his mother die. What must it have been like for him? He was a child raised on dark energy, who watched his father imitating devils and his mother doing whatever she did. Presumably he grew up hearing about witches and damnation and yet he wanted to come to church. No one forced him to come to confirmation class. Perhaps when your parents were Lucifer and Domino Raines, the only way to rebel was to choose Christianity. He was strong. She could tell that much just from the fact that he was here. He survived.
“I was very sorry to hear about your mother,” Maggie said.
And he was honest, she thought. Direct.
“Yes, I was. I won’t lie and say we were best friends, but she was a very vivid spirit.”
“You lost your daughter.” That came out of nowhere. She was surprised he even knew. Was it something people still talked about?
“She was young. Like me.”
“She was 17. A little older than you. She was in a car accident.”
“She was speeding.”
“No, she was at a stoplight. There was a truck coming toward her and he couldn’t stop. It had been raining and he skid.”
Milo nodded. Those fingers were whirling around. “So it wasn’t her fault?”
“No,” Maggie said. “It was an accident. Bad luck, I guess you could say.”
He nodded at that. She noticed the sleeves of his suit coat were rolled up. They were too long for him. She was surprised he didn’t own one that fit and she wondered if perhaps Domino’s financial troubles went deeper than she’d let on.
“Why do you ask?” she said. “Why do you want to know about Juliet?”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged, then said, “If you do something bad in another lifetime, it can come back and bite you in this lifetime.”
“Are we talking now about your mother or my daughter?”
He shrugged again.
“I don’t believe that,” Maggie said. “That lets out the possibility of atonement and forgiveness. I don’t believe you’re punished for everything you do. This is what grace is all about.”
“My mother used to say she deserved to be punished. She said she was wicked.”
Interesting parenting strategy, Maggie thought.
“I don’t know.”
She knew he wanted to tell her something, but didn’t know what it was and she worried that if she didn’t ask the right question, the moment would disappear. But what was the right question? She thought of something Detective Grudge said about confession. Why do people confess? Why will they do it even if they wind up going to jail? Detective Grudge postulated it was because secrets and guilt are a burden most people don’t want to bear. Confession can be a release, even if it gets you in trouble. What the detective has to do, Grudge said, is find a way to make it possible for a person to confess. She wished, in this moment, however, that Grudge had been more specific. Then she had a sudden intuition.
“Did you argue with your mother on the day she died?” Maggie asked.
Milo’s eyes flashed. He jolted, as though electrocuted. Then he looked at her like she was a mind reader, though in fact it was the only thing that made sense. What was a 13-year-old likely to feel guilty about?
He curled inward, as though trying to protect himself. She didn’t press him. It was clear to Maggie that he wanted to tell her. She sat back in her chair, and gave him space.
“She wanted me to go on the balcony with her.”
Maggie forced herself not to jump on that statement. Let him talk. Let him be.
“She said we were a dynasty and she wanted everyone to see me. But I didn’t want to. I wanted to get something to eat. I was hungry.”
“It’s not uncommon for teenage boys to not do what their mothers want them to.”
“If I’d gone up there, I could have stopped her from falling,” he cried out.
“Maybe,” Maggie said gently, “or maybe you would have fallen over yourself. There’s no way to know.”
Domino hadn’t asked Lucifer to come up with her though, Maggie thought. When she’d seen him, she handed him the tarantula. Was that because she was mad at him? But he said they were intimate. Was he lying?
“Did she see your father after that?” Maggie asked.
“She saw Passion,” he said. “She was there. Hovering. Then I left. I don’t know what happened after that.”
Maggie thought of where the stairs to the balcony were, which was right off of the main entryway. A small, compressed spot. Passion was there, and Milo, and at some point, Lucifer. It was a lot of commotion, and meanwhile Domino had time for an encounter with a broomstick. She must have been disoriented. Would it have been possible for someone else to have been up on the balcony with her? But Racine would have noticed, and she would have said something. There were plenty of people who disliked Domino, but at the moment of her death, she was alone. At the railing. Unless, perhaps, someone put a spell on her. Was that possible?
“Did your mother ever mention someone named Grant Winfrey?”
“Yeah, “Milo said. “Another witch, right? She said he was stupid.”
“So she wasn’t afraid of him?”
“No. My mother wasn’t afraid of anything. She said he couldn’t do anything to hurt her.”
“So she thought he might want to hurt her?”
He shook his head. “She always said she was more powerful, but maybe…” He paused and looked down, and Maggie hoped he wasn’t thinking about his mother and that broomstick. That image, combined with guilt, would be a devastating thing for anyone to carry, but most especially a 13-year-old boy.
She placed her hand on his. He was so cool to the touch. He looked like one of those creatures who’d been drained of blood.
“Chickie, I’ve felt guilty for years that there wasn’t something I could have done about my daughter. I’ve lived it over and over in my mind, what I could have done to save her. And I could have. I knew she was going to a party and she would be breaking up with her boyfriend and she’d be upset and so she’d probably have something to drink. I could have told her not to go to that party and she would have listened. I loved her. I didn’t want her to die. I had no idea my actions would have ramifications like that.”
He closed his eyes. He looked like he was about to fall sleep. How vulnerable he seemed, though she knew he was stronger than he appeared.
“You’ll find out what happened to her, won’t you?”
“I’m trying,” Maggie said, which was as much as she could promise.
One thing was clear and that was that she had to talk to Grant Winfrey. Regardless of what Walter said about leaving him alone, his name kept popping up. It went against the grain for her to flout a person’s express order, especially when that person was a member of the police, but it seemed like part of being a private detective was having a willingness to get in trouble.
Monday morning Maggie borrowed Helen’s car. She figured a white Subaru would be less noticeable than a red Audi, though she was slightly appalled at the condition of Helen’s car. There seemed to be remnants of every snack Edgar had eaten in his young life. Boxes of Juicy Juice. Empty yogurt bottles. An entire collection of Captain Underpants. When the car moved forward, everything in it moved backward, so there was a steady cacophony as she drove. Maggie didn’t consider herself a neatness fanatic, but she did prefer not to have an old ball of gum roll under her feet when she braked a car. One thing was certain: if called upon to perform a citizen’s arrest, she would not put Grant Winfrey in the car.
Not that she planned to perform a citizen’s arrest. There were levels of assertiveness Maggie knew she would never reach.
She pulled the car into the parking lot at the doctor’s office, positioning herself so that she had a view of the front door, and also of Grant Winfrey’s car, parked two aisles down. Then she settled herself in to wait. She hadn’t brought along a book because she didn’t want to be engrossed with one of the Karamazovs and have Dr. Winfrey go sneaking by. Neither did she think she should play Candy Crush on her telephone. She’d brought a thermos of coffee, but she wasn’t drinking any. Detective Grudge recommended bringing along an empty bottle for bodily needs; since she didn’t want to use that, she decided it was better not to ingest anything at all. She just hoped he didn’t work late on Mondays. Daylight Savings Time had just ended and she didn’t like the idea of following him around in the dark.
She would have put on the radio, but Helen said the car had a quiffy gas meter that sometimes said the tank was full and other times said it was empty. Best not to turn on the car, she reasoned, as it would be foolish to follow someone and not have the car move.
“How do you know if the tank actually is empty?” Maggie’d asked.
“I keep filling it. I just did it the other day. I think. Don’t worry, Dove,” she said, “you’ll be fine.” Those were words that always struck terror into Maggie Dove’s heart, but she needed to get this done.
No, all she could do was sit and watch and think. There was a time when spending a few hours alone thinking would have been torture. Her mind would have been filled with sorrow. But now Maggie found herself engrossed in the problem at hand. She tried to visualize the scene with Winfrey, when she finally caught up with him. It was the same principle as teaching Sunday School, she supposed. You prepared and you thought everything out, and then quite often things followed your anticipated trajectory, though not always. She remembered a time she planned a project involving Tic Tacs. It was something to do with a passage relating to grains of sand, but she thought the children would have more fun with Tic Tacs. She anticipated a certain amount of pilferage, as Detective Grudge liked to put it. What she hadn’t anticipated was that young Jack Mars would cram one up his nose.
She remembered the way he tugged on her dress. “Maggie Dove. Maggie Dove. There’s a Tic Tac up my nose.”
She hadn’t believed him. He looked perfectly normal, and so she told him to go wash his hands, which seemed as good a response as any. For ten minutes he kept going on about that until finally she brought out a handkerchief and said,
By 4:00, laughter had turned to anxiety. She’d worried about almost everything it was possible to worry about. She’d worked her way up to the necessity of election reform, when Grant Winfrey finally walked out the door and to his car.
She had to brush away tears. Her eyes were blurry and she wouldn’t have minded a rest room break. But she also felt the flare of excitement.
Grant Winfrey looked around, but she was pretty sure he didn’t see her. Still, she waited a few minutes before turning on her car. She knew he wouldn’t be able to speed right then. He would be caught up in rush hour traffic. She put on a baseball cap. Detective Grudge recommended small changes that could disguise your regular look. She also took off her pearl earrings.
Fortunately, he was staying straight on Broadway. She kept three cars between them. She hoped the increasing darkness would provide even more of a disguise. She noticed there was no gas, but she hoped that was just a fluke of the tank. She couldn’t stop now. They kept going north, into Tarrytown, past Main Street, and farther, past the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which was where Domino was buried. He didn’t stop, which she was relieved about. She didn’t relish the idea of chasing a witch in a dark cemetery. Thankfully he kept going north. Now it was quite dark. Maggie didn’t like driving in the dark, and as they went farther north, there were fewer lights. Fortunately he turned onto a side street and pulled right up in front of a small house. He stopped so suddenly that Maggie was forced to go around him, past him on the street, and she waited for a beat and turned around and parked a few houses down.
So he had come home. Only then did it occur to her that she could have just looked up his address, but it was all a learning curve, she supposed. Anyway, here she was, and now what to do? She knew that people felt more comfortable on their home ground. Perhaps he would be more willing to talk to her here. She started up his walkway and had a rogue memory of Juliet selling Girl Scout cookies, Maggie always sitting in the car while she went house to house, to make sure she was safe. And now here was Maggie about to meet someone who was decidedly not safe.