Welcome to His Brother’s Keeper, a fictional mystery series set in 2000, in New York. I’ve decided to periodically lend my blog to a friend, Eva Hirschel. Eva doesn’t have a social media presence but she does have a mystery that she wanted to publish serially on-line, so I’m giving her a hand. (If you’re just tuning in now, I suggest that you start at the beginning). Here is Part I, Chapter 18. Enjoy!
Into the bag went a spare pair of pants, a cotton sweater, two pairs of clean underwear, socks, a pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt, my favorite short-sleeve black blouse, one purple t-shirt and my toiletry kit. I needed to bring clothes that would make me look presentable and put together, but not overly professional. Since I wasn’t planning on calling Jack Gelberman ahead of time, the look I was going for was earnest and concerned, not someone there in an official capacity. Luckily, everything fit easily into the small duffel bag that I had recently gotten free from the bank upon opening a new account. My files were in my laptop case, which was leaning against the bed, also ready to go. The boarding pass was in the outside pocket of the case, along with my wallet containing some of the cash from Sarah Gelberman. Ronit and I worked out a schedule for the next two days, and everything seemed more or less in place for the morning. Everything, that is, except that I hadn’t exactly discussed it yet with Simon. I was not looking forward to talking to him about this trip, and I knew that he was not going to be happy about it.
Packed and more or less ready to go, I walked out of my bedroom and went to check on the kids. Hannah was fast asleep, curled up in her bed as if in a nest, the blankets swirled around her. A day out in the autumn sun had exhausted her and she had gone to sleep without any protest. No doubt she was dreaming about apples. I bent down to straighten out the covers and pulled them up over her shoulders. She felt warm and I placed my lips on her forehead. She seemed warmer than usual, but not burning hot. Maybe she’s just overheated, I said to myself, trying to be rationale; it’s a warm evening. She hadn’t acted droopy or given any other indication that she was coming down with something. Careful not to wake her, I laid my cheek against hers and listened to her breathing. I was probably just imaging it, anxious about going away and leaving the kids even though it would be a short trip. From the day she was born, the sound of her breath going in and out, in and out, was one of the most calming sounds I had ever heard. I remained with her for a few moments, tempted to crawl right in next to her and fall asleep, avoiding having to speak to Simon. Instead, I got up and walked over to Caleb.
He was stretched out in one of his favorite sleeping places, on the rug at the foot of Hannah’s bed, his flannel dinosaur blanket clutched in his hand. Sometimes she would let him get into bed with her, and that was his favorite place to sleep. But some nights she wanted her bed to herself, and often on those nights he would sprawl on the rug, like a puppy denied his rightful place in the master’s bed. He was a loyal pup. No matter how much he and his sister squabbled during the daytime hours, at night-time he wanted to be as close to Hannah as possible. Not wanting to wake him, I let him stay where he was for the time being, making sure he was properly covered with a blanket. Trying not to make the floorboards creak under my weight, I crept out of the room and went downstairs.
The sight that greeted me as I descended the stairs made me want to run back up quickly and stick my head under the covers. The kitchen counter was piled high with newspapers, books, half-finished art projects, and dirty dishes. The recycling container overflowed with empty cans, jars, and seltzer bottles. Coffee grinds and carrot peels mingled in the sink, along with a pot of burnt rice that needed to soak overnight. A pile of clean but still-to-be folded clothes were heaped on the dining room table. Caleb’s Brio train tracks snaked their way around the couch and coffee table, and pieces of Duplo were scattered across the rug. Construction paper lined the floor in front of the fireplace, crayons flung down across the paper waited to be crushed by an unsuspecting shoe. Plastic storage boxes of toys stuffed into a wooden cabinet were perched precariously, about to tumble off of the shelves. I sighed. Someday, my house would be neat and clean and organized. Someday I would teach my children to pick up their toys and take responsibility for their belongings. Someday I would be the perfect wife and mother.
Simon was due home shortly. He had a meeting with his partner and some clients that involved dinner, so I had eaten earlier with the kids. Before dinner we made a crumble with apples Hannah brought back from the field trip. Apple crumble was one of Simon’s all-time favorite desserts, especially served warm with Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream. I had made sure to buy the ice cream this afternoon, and I was hoping the dessert might serve to sweeten the news of my trip. I knew that things were tense at work for him; he was trying to finish up a big project for a client and they had hit some snags. He had been working lots of extra hours, and it hadn’t helped that I had asked him to come home early last night so that I could meet with Avrum Shapira. He was not going to be happy with the news that I was planning on flying to Florida tomorrow. I knew rationally that there was no reason that his work should take higher priority than my work, which is what this trip was all about, but at the same time it was his job that paid most of our bills and allowed us to live the life style we tried to maintain. He wasn’t wrong in wanting and expecting my support at stressful times like this. However, if I always put my professional needs on hold until it was a good time for Simon, I would not have any clients and therefore would not have any professional needs. If I took on a client and a job, I needed the flexibility to be able to follow the job through. Generally the jobs I took were easy enough to do through my computer and perhaps some visits to local libraries and resource centers. I rarely needed to travel, but this particular job was proving to be an exception in every way, and Simon was going to have to deal with that.
All my ducks were in a row, for a change. Ronit was around and available, and every minute of the kids’ waking hours for the next three days were planned out. I had typed up detailed lists with the daily schedules for Simon and Ronit. I didn’t really think I would be gone for three days, but just to be on the safe side I had thought through the rest of the week. I even briefly considered taking Caleb with me and dropping him off with my grandmother while I went about my business down there, as she lived only about an hour away from my destination. But she had answered my e-mail with the news that as much as she would love to see us, she was heading over to the Miami area for a few days to see her one of her cousins, who was recovering from hip replacement surgery. I reminded myself to send Cousin Ida a get-well card.
I was racking my brain trying to think of additional things I could do to prove to Simon that things were under control. I had gone so far as to lay out clothes for the kids for the rest of the week, in neat piles on top of their dressers, even though it was inevitable that Hannah would want to wear something else entirely, and the less it matched, the better.
The phone rang and I reached for it, glad for the distraction.
“Hey, Abby,” said Bird. “How are you?”
I settled myself on a stool, turning my back on the dirty dishes. “Fine. You?”
“Fine, fine. So what’s the deal? Are you considering my offer? Why haven’t I heard an immediate yes?”
I groaned. “Oh, Bird, not everyone’s like you. Not everyone knows what they want right away.”
She laughed. “Okay. But you’ve had a few days. What are you thinking?”
Just then the phone beeped, indicated another call. “Hold on, call waiting.” I depressed the call button. “Hello?”
“Hi Abby.” Simon’s deep voice boomed into my ear. “Everything okay over there?”
“Yeah. How’d the meeting go?” I asked, doing my best not to sound accusatory. “I thought you’d already be on your way by now.”
Simon cleared his throat. “Abs, it’s not going so great. I’m going to be at least another hour.” He paused, waiting for a response, but I didn’t say anything. “I’m sorry, hon. I wish it was over, believe me. Will you wait up?”
“I’ll be up, I’ll be up. I need to talk to you. Hold on a sec.” I clicked back to Bird. “Can you hold on another minute? It’s Simon. I’ll be right back, okay?”
“Sure,” she answered.
“Thanks.” I clicked back to Simon. “Okay, I’m back.”
“What’s up? Everything okay? I can’t really talk now.”
“Yeah, fine. But I need to go to Florida tomorrow.” I got up and walked over to the sink, willing myself to face the mess. “I’ll explain when you get home.”
There was silence on the other end.
“You there, Simon?”
A strange sound came from the receiver, something between a sigh and a groan. “I assume you’re not joking. And I assume this has to do with Jack Gelberman, and not your grandmother.”
“You assume correctly.” As I spoke, I dumped the carrot peels in the garbage and ran more water in the pot. The warm sudsy water felt good on my hands.
“Shit, Abby. This is a really bad time for me right now. Never mind the fact that you’re in way over your head here with this whole Gelberman thing.”
Now it was my turn to sigh. “Simon, you have to go back to work, and Bird’s waiting patiently to finish our conversation. We’ll talk later. Good luck with the rest of the meeting.”
“Abby, this isn’t fair. You can’t just throw this at me.”
I attacked the bottom of the pot with gusto I didn’t know I had in me after this long day. “Simon, trust me, I’ve got to go. It will be fine. Just a quick trip down and back. Ronit is around. It’s not a big deal.”
“Look, they’re calling me to come back in. Don’t make any quick decisions and we’ll talk later. You didn’t buy a ticket already, did you?”
I turned the faucet back on and ran more hot water. “What did you say? I can’t hear you over the water.”
“That’s an old trick, Abby. You bought the ticket, didn’t you?”
My silence was enough of an answer.
“I can’t believe you would—look, I really gotta go. I’ll be late, but try to stay up, okay?” Simon’s voice was strained and my guilt level increased. I knew he was under a lot of stress at work, and I wasn’t helping the situation.
I exhaled loudly. “Okay. I’ll probably be downstairs working.”
“I’ll come down when I get in. Believe me, I’d be home if I had a choice.”
“I know. Go, good luck. I’ll see you later.”
I clicked back to Bird. “Okay, I’m back.”
She picked up right where she had left off. “This job is made for you. You have to at least give it serious consideration. Flexible hours, good pay, benefits. Come on, what are you waiting for? Someone else is going to grab it up, and you’ll be sorry forever.”
It really was a great offer and I needed some time to think it through. “Can you give me a week?” I said, renewing my futile attempt to scrub burnt rice off the bottom of the pot. The pot needed to soak overnight, but I was too stubborn and too jumpy to just let it be.
Bird thought for a moment. “Okay, but just for a week. I really can’t do more than that.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “I’m sure that I won’t need more than a week to resolve this case.” Famous last words.