Flossed alex harris myst.., p.1
Flossed (Alex Harris Mystery Series), p.1Elaine Macko
An Alex Harris Mystery
Other Books in the Alex Harris series
Copyright © 2013 by Elaine Macko
All Rights Reserved.
In 1986 I had the good fortune to move to Brussels, where I lived for the next 12 years. While I loved Belgium, and especially Brussels, at some point I felt homesick and needed the company of other Americans. I found this much needed comfort at the American Women’s Club of Brussels (AWCB).
The club was filled with women, most having moved to Belgium because of a job transfer. They came together in a beautiful house, on a tree-lined street outside the city and from the time the doors opened in the morning until closing time in the late afternoon, the club provided companionship, a creative outlet, and unending support. I loved being a member and when I was asked to step in and take over one of the board positions, I gladly accepted. I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had and continue to keep in touch with them all these years later.
So, when I decided to send my protagonist, Alex Harris, off on an adventure, it was only natural that I send her to the beautiful country of Belgium. And because the American Women’s Club played such an important part in my life during my years abroad, I gave it a part in this book. Any negative descriptions depicted in this story are purely the thoughts of some of the troubled characters in this book and bear no resemblance to the country or the wonderful AWCB.
For Eileen and Nena
Thank you for sharing that wonderful time with me…and still friends after all these years.
My seventh-grade English teacher, Mrs. Cave, used to tell us if we wanted to conquer our fears, we had to jump right in, give it all we had, stare it in the eye, and victory would be ours. This worked wonderfully when I had to stand up in front of my class and give a book review. I hated standing up in front of my class, listening to snickers, or worse, not having them laugh when they were meant to. But I followed Mrs. Cave’s advice and never failed to receive high marks on both content and delivery.
In theory, this bit of sage advice should work all through life. In reality, Mrs. Cave didn’t know what the hell she was talking about. As I sat here fidgeting in my seat, occasionally lifting the shade to see if we were anywhere near land and safety, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that Mrs. Cave was full of crap. Yes, I was actually on the plane, so I’ll give her that one; I was jumping right in. But after five hours my heart still raced at the thought there was nothing under us but a very deep, dark cold ocean very, very far down. How do you conquer that one, Mrs. Cave? Huh?
After an hour of distracting myself from my impending death, I pulled the earplugs out of my ears and turned toward John. “These things are killing me.”
“What’s wrong?” he asked, removing his own pair, and trying unsuccessfully not to sigh.
“I don’t know how you can use them. And I really wanted to see that movie.”
“We’ll rent it when we get home. Why don’t you read?” John suggested. “We still have another three hours plus to go.”
I peeked through the crack between our seats to the two people seated behind us. My brother-in-law, Michael, slept quietly, and my sister, Sam, was busy reading. The fasten-your-seat belt sign flashed on just as the plane began to shake. A voice, probably that of the pilot who should be flying instead of talking, came over the loudspeaker and announced a bit of turbulence. I grabbed the arms of my seat, thinking “a bit of turbulence” was an understatement. Anything strong enough to throw the jet around along with all the passengers, luggage, and fuel, was not a bit of anything.
John took his earplugs out once again and looked at me. “You should have told me you were afraid to fly before we got married. Now I’m stuck with you and your paranoia.”
“I’m not afraid to fly,” I said, indignantly unclenching my hands and trying to calm down. “I just don’t like it when we shake. It’s not normal, John. And how exactly does this thing stay up? Never mind. Don’t tell me.” I waved my hands frantically. “My luggage alone should keep it on the ground. And did you see how many bags Sam has? And another thing,” I said while pretending not to see John’s smile. “I thought the ads said all the seats where wider and had more leg room.”
“That’s in business class,” John answered.
“Why?” I asked indignantly. “They’ve already got more leg room and wider seats.”
“Alex, try to sleep.” John patted my hand. “We’ll be there in a few hours. Just think of our wedding and the wonderful time we’re going to have on our honeymoon.”
“Easy for you to say.” I turned in my seat again. “But then we still have to get back.”
“I can’t win.” John returned earplugs to ears and took my hand.
I closed my eyes and told myself to relax. This was, after all, my honeymoon, which I was going on with my sister and brother-in-law. And if you think that sounds odd, it’s not. At least not for my family. The only odd thing about it is my parents and grandmother didn’t tag along as well.
We were headed for Belgium. We picked it because of its central location to lots of other hot spots like London, Paris and Amsterdam, and also because John had a friend from college who lived in Belgium. He was able to find us an apartment where we could stay for free. Oh, and did I mention it was also the diamond capital of the world and I had yet to receive an engagement ring? I planned on rectifying this slight very soon adding a lovely diamond to my shiny new wedding band.
The plane shook once more. I stirred in my seat again and looked out the window. Still black. I closed the blinds, along with my eyes. I still couldn’t believe I was married. When John had asked me eight months ago, I told him maybe we could just start by living together. To the man’s credit, he humored me and never asked again. He simply moved into my tiny house where we lived in complete cramped contentment.
Until, that is, I started to wonder why he wasn’t asking me to marry him again. As my sister pointed out on many occasions, sometimes you just couldn’t please me. The truth was I finally arrived at the point all by myself where I felt certain John was the one—my one true love—and that I wanted to marry him more than anything. Once I came to that conclusion, one I might add he knew I would arrive at if just left to my own devices, I wanted everything to happen quickly.
And it pretty much did. My mother, sister, and Millie, our assistant at our temp agency, Always Prepared, sprang into action as if they had been trained by David Tutera himself, he of My Fair Wedding fame. Meanwhile Meme, my much-loved grandmother, and I just settled back and watched the three of them take over.
I wanted to keep things small and so we had a lovely ceremony in my parents’ beautiful back yard attended my family and friends and the guy who officiated. I still wasn’t sure who he was, a judge I think, that John knew.
A catering company was found and Millie enlisted the help of her mother and grandmother to transform the yard into a wonderland of twinkling lights and fresh flowers. The ceremony was held at night and the only thing missing was a swimming pool in which to float candles. I did ask, but my mother said putting in a pool for my wedding was out of the question.
What was my sister’s part in all of this? She found my dress. A black one. Yes, black, to the horror of my mother who thought it an abomination to where black at a wedding, but I loved the idea of the whole event coming off as more of a classy evening cocktail party than that of a traditional wedding. My sister also provided the services of her two children, Kendall and Henry, who
And now here we were, a few days after the wedding, heading to Europe—Brussels specifically.
Belgium’s capital had a history full of diversity. Originally Dutch speaking, Phillip the Good brought a French speaking ruling class to the city in the fifteenth century. The city remained under French rule until the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, and then for the next fifteen years was governed by the Netherlands.
After a brief revolution, Belgium became a country with Brussels the capital. The country was occupied during both World Wars and afterward emerged to become the seat of the European Commission and the headquarters for NATO.
From all the pictures I saw in our guidebook, it looked wonderful and quaint. I was anxious to get there and start sightseeing. I was also anxious to meet John’s friend, Bill Westlake, and his wife.
From the moment we decided to honeymoon in Europe, John talked endlessly about his friend. I hoped I would like the Westlakes. But I had a feeling this reunion might not be all John hoped for. From what he told me, Bill had always been a lot of fun, the life of any party, but Bill’s last few letters and the phone call right before we left indicated he wasn’t the same happy-go-lucky guy from school. John suspected he was overworked. But I had another reason—they were older. While I looked forward to spending some time with the Westlakes, I hoped the four of us would have some time to just explore the city by ourselves. And maybe I could even find some time for just John and me.
“If you’ll pass your headsets to the aisle, we’ll be collecting them momentarily,” the voice over the intercom said waking me from my dreamy state.
“Are we there?” I asked with relief.
“Almost. You missed the light breakfast. Are you hungry, I could ask them to bring you something?” John offered.
“No, thanks. I’m just glad I slept.” I lifted the shade on my window. Other than a lot of clouds, there wasn’t much to see, though it had grown lighter. “The weather doesn’t look too good.”
John leaned over me and looked out. “I logged onto the Internet before we left, and the weather service said Brussels was going to be getting warmer each day.”
Sam poked her head over the seat. “I can’t believe we’re all here together.”
The flight attendants made a quick pass down the aisle putting seat backs into an upright position. I kept my eyes glued to the window hoping for a glimpse of the country below.
“I see something! Look, there. It’s a house. It’s so green.”
“The house?” John asked.
“No. The grass, the trees. Everything.”
“With all the rain they get, it damned well better be,” Michael voiced from somewhere behind John.
The plane descended, tilting from one side to the other. Okay, so maybe I was afraid to fly, but for some reason I quite enjoyed the landing. I guess I just felt, in my goofy logic, we had made it this far, and if anything were to happen now, we were close to the ground and emergency vehicles. The wheels of the plane touched down and the engines seemed to roar even louder as the plane slowed steadily, finally coming to a complete stop at the gate.
“Bienvenue a Bruxelles,” the flight attendant announced and my face, which had been set in a grimace pretty much for the entire flight finally relaxed and I smiled.
We were here and my honeymoon was about to begin.
The flight attendant continued to welcome us and repeated the outside temperature in three languages.
“That’s right,” I said listening, “I keep forgetting Belgium has two languages in addition to the English the airlines always use.”
“Three, actually,” said a young man on the other side of the aisle. “Part of the country is German speaking but unless you go to that area, you’ll just be seeing signs in Flemish and French. Do you speak any French?” he asked John.
“Just a few words I remember from high school.”
“Well, Bruxelles,” he pronounced it the French way, “is very international. You should have no problems getting by with just English.” He wished us a bon vacance and walked down the aisle laden with a shopping bag full to the top.
Michael leaned over. “A friend told me everything here is really expensive and Belgians bring back a ton of stuff whenever they go to the U.S. or England.”
I wondered if we would all be returning home with just as much. The thought of the return flight made me shudder and I pushed it from my head. Like that great heroine, Scarlett O’Hara, I would think about that tomorrow. Or maybe the day after. We were here now and I didn’t need to think about our return flight for a couple of weeks.
We went through customs and got our first stamps in our new passports. Twenty minutes later we had our luggage and emerged into the waiting area. John was the only one who knew our hosts, so he glanced around until he saw Bill standing in the back of a large crowd.
“There he is! Bill!” John dropped his bags and went up to his friend throwing his arms around his old college buddy. “My God, you haven’t changed a bit! How long has it been?”
“Too long. You must be Alex. Welcome to Belgium and congratulations.” Bill took me into his arms and kissed my cheek.
Bill Westlake was a big bear of a man. He had brown hair with a reddish tint and just a hint of gray at the temples. Introductions were made all around and then Bill led us outside to where his wife waited in the van.
“We’re not supposed to be parked here, so why don’t you all pile in and I’ll do the intros later.”
I got in first and introduced myself to Wanda Westlake who was the exact opposite of her husband. Even seated, I could tell Wanda couldn’t be much more than five-foot-three and very slim. If she was the opposite of her husband in physical appearance, she was his twin in exuberance. She grabbed my hand and gave it a big squeeze, welcoming Sam and me, who had just climbed in, to Belgium. Wanda had thick, dark brown hair cut to shoulder length and big round blue eyes. Her teeth protruded just a bit but she had a warm friendly smile.
“I’m afraid we’re going to be caught in morning traffic as it is a weekday. But we’ll have a chance to get caught up.” Bill climbed into the van.
Wanda moved to the back putting John next to Bill. The two men had a lot to catch up on. A few minutes later we pulled into traffic.
“This is the Ring Road. It goes all around the city with various other motorways leading from it,” Bill said. “On your right is part of the Forêst de Soignes—Forest of the Swans. Don’t worry too much about the roads.”
“Except for priority to the right,” Wanda said, interrupting her husband.
“What’s priority to the right?” Michael asked.
“One of the most nerve-racking inventions. Anyone coming from your right, such as from a side street or driveway, has the right to just pull out. So every time you come to a street on the right, slow down and see if anything’s coming,” explained Wanda. “But only the first car coming from the right has the priority. If there’s another car coming behind them, then they must stop.”
This sounded pretty dangerous to me. Maybe we would just use public transportation while we were here.
“It’s probably the reason why so many cars have dents on their left side,” Bill laughed.
“Well, this ought to be fun.” Sam sounded excited. I made a mental note not to let my sister drive. She was bad enough in America.
I pointed to a sign above the motorway. “Look! Luxembourg. And two other cities, Namur and Namen.”
Wanda laughed. “Actually, Alex, it’s one city. Namur is the name in French and Namen is the Flemish. It can be a bit tricky to find where you’re going if you don’t know the names in both languages.”
“So we have to watch out for cars from the right an
I made the sign of the cross and rolled my eyes at my sister.
“What?” she asked in her most innocent tone.
“It’s my honeymoon, and you’re not driving.” I gave her a stern look.
“Your apartment is on Avenue Franklin Roosevelt. Across from it is the Bois de la Cambre. It’s really lovely,” Wanda told us. “It’s a large park with a lake and a few restaurants. There’s also a grocery store not too far from the apartment and the tramline is just around the corner from your front door. It’ll take you right into the center of Brussels. Of course you can walk, too. The Smiths, the people who live in the apartment, left you their car keys for their Escort. It’s not very big, but it does the job.”
The American couple who loaned us the apartment spent summers traveling all over Europe and wanted to have a house sitter. Of course we were all happy to volunteer our services. By the time we pulled up in front of the apartment forty-five minutes later, the sky had cleared and the sun shone brightly through all the trees.
“Well, here we are,” said Wanda. “We’ll come in and help you get settled. You must all be so tired, but I suggest you try and stay awake for a while anyway, or else your body clock will be all goofy. Taking a walk is supposed to be a good thing for jet lag. I can point you in the direction of the grocery store. You’ll probably want to get a few things anyway.”
The apartment building was on one of the most fashionable streets in the city, as Wanda had explained earlier. The avenue was wide with a green belt separating the traffic and large trees stood all along the sidewalk.
“You’ve missed the pink blossoms, I’m afraid,” Wanda said, noticing my interest in the trees. “They bloom in April. Some are pink and some are white. It’s really gorgeous but when all those blossoms fall, the sidewalk can be quite slippery.”
Flossed (Alex Harris Mystery Series) by Elaine Macko / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes