Shelter in place, p.13
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       Shelter in Place, p.13

           Nora Roberts

  “Who— Oh God, don’t tell me my grandmother bought her.”

  “She did not. Come and meet who did.”

  Her ears buzzed when she walked through the serpentine layout of the gallery to meet the businessman and his stylish wife who’d given Simone her first major sale.

  Then the buzzing gave way to cheering inside as she shook hands, chatted.

  She had to tell CiCi.

  She worked her way through, finally found CiCi standing by a piece she’d titled Emergence. While she considered the bronze her most complicated and difficult piece in the show, this was her personal favorite.

  Because it held her heart.

  The female head and shoulders rose out of a pool, the head tipped back, the hair flowing down sleek and wet, the eyes closed, the face rapturous.

  She’d done it in pale blues.

  “CiCi, I … What’s wrong?” Seeing tears in her grandmother’s eyes, she rushed forward. “You’re not feeling well? Do you need air? Do you need some water?”

  “No. No.” CiCi gripped her hand. “Step outside with me a minute, before I embarrass myself.”

  “Okay. Here.” She slipped an arm around CiCi’s waist, guided her out. “It’s hot and crowded. I’m going to find you a chair.”

  “I’m fine. I’m fine. Jesus, don’t treat me like an old lady. I just need a second.”

  Outside, the air smelled of flowers and food. People sat on the patio of the restaurant across the street, enjoying dinner, conversation. A woman walked by—long legs in a short skirt—with a dog on a leash.

  “I knew you were talented. I knew it would be clay. I’m a little bit psychic, as you know.” CiCi took the wine Simone had forgotten she held, sipped. “I could see your work moving when I visited last fall. And you’ve sent me pictures, videos. But they don’t show it, my baby. They don’t show it like this. Like seeing it. The textures, the details, the feeling. There’s so much brilliance here, I can’t begin. And you’ve barely started.”

  CiCi patted away tears. “I’m telling you this, artist to artist, so don’t give me any crap when I say that your Emergence has to be mine. I’m buying it not because you’re my granddaughter. I’m buying it because it made me weep, it touched my soul.”

  “It’s … It’s Tish.”

  “Yes, I know. And she, and you, touched my soul.”

  “Then it’s a gift.”

  “No. It will not be a gift. You can give me something else, but not that. Now go in there and tell them it’s sold before somebody buys it out from under me. I need to drink this wine and pull myself together. Hurry up!”

  “I’ll be right back.”

  When she came back, she found CiCi leaning against the wall, smiling. “I’ve still got it. The most charming man—not much older than you—stopped and offered to buy me a real glass of wine. We should go back in before I create a sexual disturbance.”

  “Now I need a minute. CiCi.” She groped for her grandmother’s hand. “CiCi, I’ve sold four pieces—five,” she corrected. “Five with yours. Anna-Tereza is thrilled. I swear, I almost took a page out of your book, almost lit candles and tried to do a spell so I could sell one and not humiliate myself.”

  “No witchcraft for your own gain.” Sipping with one hand, CiCi squeezed Simone’s with the other. “It’s tacky.”

  “Right. Dante’s going to be pretty pleased, as he was the model for two of the sales.”

  “And the night’s not over. When this part is, we’re going to have ourselves one hell of a celebration. And look who’s going to be raising glasses with us.”

  “Who—” Simone looked in the direction CiCi pointed.

  She saw the woman running, short, black bob bouncing. Sneakers, a backpack.

  “Mi. Oh God, Mi!”

  Despite the heels, Simone sprinted to meet her.

  “My flight from London was delayed. I didn’t have time to change. I’m a mess. I’m here. I’m not too late.”

  The breathless volley of words came with hugs.

  “But you had that conference. You’re speaking. You—”

  “I’ve only got tonight. I have to fly back first thing in the morning. Jeez, you look fabulous. I’m not worthy.”

  “Dr. Jung. My Dr. Jung.” She pulled her over to CiCi, embraced them both. “This is the best night of my life.”


  In the eighteen months and three weeks Simone spent in Florence, Patricia Hobart killed three people.

  Killing Hilda Barclay, who’d cradled her dying husband of forty-seven years in her arms during the attack, meant traveling to Tampa, where Hilda had moved to be closer to her daughter. But Patricia considered the time and expense worth it.

  She thoroughly resented the press Hilda generated, especially after Hilda created a scholarship for underprivileged youths in her husband’s name.

  Underprivileged, my ass, Patricia thought. Freeloaders and assholes coddled by whiny liberal do-gooders.

  Plus her target gave her ten days away from the nasty Maine winter—and her will-they-ever-just-die grandparents.

  She did her research, of course, before she kissed her annoyingly long-lived grandparents goodbye, and headed off on what everyone agreed was a well-deserved vacation.

  Maybe they’d both die in their sleep before she got back, and the equally detestable cat her grandmother spoiled like a baby would eat their eyeballs.

  A girl had to have her dreams.

  She loved Florida, and that surprised her. She loved the sun and the palm trees, the blue of the sky and the water. As she studied the view from her hotel suite—why not splurge?—and took pictures to send home, she imagined living there.

  She might consider it, if it wasn’t for all the old people.

  And Jews.

  She’d consider it anyway.

  In any case, she found it ridiculously simple to stalk Hilda and case the two-bedroom bungalow she lived in—on the same block as her daughter’s family.

  Within three days, she concluded she had Hilda’s daily routine down pat. The old bat lived a simple life. She liked to garden, had several bird feeders she kept stocked, and rode a three-wheeled bike around the neighborhood like some wrinkled toddler.

  On the fourth day, with ideas of tragic gardening or biking accidents in the hopper, Patricia cruised by as Hilda filled a bird feeder built to replicate a restaurant—complete with flower-boxed windows and a sign proclaiming FOOD FOR FEATHERS.

  She pulled over, patted her short black wig, adjusted her amber-lensed sunglasses, then got out of the car.

  “Excuse me? Ma’am?”

  Hilda, spry and wiry in her floppy-brimmed hat, turned. “Can I help you?”

  “I hope this isn’t too odd, but can you tell me where you got that adorable birdhouse? My mother would just love it.”

  “Oh.” With a laugh, Hilda gestured Patricia closer. “Is she a bird lover?”

  “Big-time. Gosh, it’s even cuter up close. Is it one of a kind?”

  “It’s local work, but the shop that carries them has others like it. The Bird House.”

  She proceeded to give Patricia detailed directions, which Patricia dutifully tapped into her phone. “This is great.”

  “I think I saw you drive by yesterday.”

  Patricia’s smile froze for a bare instant. “You probably did. My parents are just getting settled into a house a few blocks away. I’m running errands for them. They just couldn’t take the winters in Saint Paul anymore.”

  “I hear that. I escaped the winters in Maine.”

  “Then you’d know,” Patricia said with a laugh. “If I can find something like this, it would be a great housewarming gift for Mom.”

  “My favorite is in the back, so I can see it from the kitchen window. It’s an English cottage.”

  “You’re kidding me!” Inspired, Patricia lifted her hands. “My mother was raised in an English cottage in the Lake District. She moved to the States as a young teenager. An English cottage bird feeder
—she’d just love that.”

  “They can nest in it, too. Come on back, I’ll show you.”

  “Oh, you’re so kind. If it’s not too much trouble?”

  “Happy to.” As they walked, Hilda waved to a man who came out of the house next door. “Hi there, Pete.”

  “Morning, Hilda. I’m heading out on a grocery run. You need anything?”

  “I’m good, thanks. Your parents will love it here,” she added as they rounded the side of the house.

  “I hope so. I’m going to miss them like crazy, but I hope so.”

  Can’t kill her now, Patricia thought. Car’s out front, stupid neighbor. “Oh, what a beautiful lanai. I bet you can swim year-round.”

  “And do,” Hilda confirmed. “Every morning before breakfast.”

  Patricia smiled. “That’s why you’re in such wonderful shape.”

  She oohed and aahed over the ridiculous bird feeder, complimented the garden, the lanai plants and pots, and thanked the soon-to-be dead woman profusely.

  She didn’t follow the directions to the Bird House, but hit a Walmart for a toaster and an extension cord.

  Promptly at seven-fifteen the next morning, Hilda walked out of the house, onto the lanai, shed a blue terry-cloth robe, and slipped into the pool in her simple chocolate-brown tank suit.

  While she did her smooth, easy laps, Patricia stepped onto the lanai through its unlocked screen door, plugged the extension cord into the wall socket on the back of the house, and tossed the toaster into the pool.

  She watched Hilda’s body flop as the water flashed. Watched it float, facedown, as she unplugged the cord, used the pool net to scoop out the toaster.

  They’d figure it out—probably—but why give them any help? She stuck the murder weapons into her backpack and, dressed in her running capris, a tank, and a ball cap, jogged three blocks to her rental car.

  She tossed the toaster in a Dumpster behind a restaurant, dumped the extension cord a couple miles away in the parking lot of a strip mall.

  That done, she stuffed her auburn wig back in her pack, went back to her hotel to enjoy a hearty room-service breakfast of a spinach omelette, turkey bacon, berries, and fresh orange juice.

  She wondered who’d find Hilda floating. Her daughter? One of the grandkids? Good neighbor Pete?

  Maybe she’d keep an eye on the local papers.

  But for the moment, she decided—without irony—to spend the rest of the day by the hotel pool.

  * * *

  Her grandparents failed to accommodate her by dying in their sleep. She settled for indulging herself with dreams of various methods of killing them. Actually killing them had to wait, but her father obliged her by getting hammered before getting behind the wheel of his Ford pickup.

  He took a mother of two and her teenage son with him when he crossed the center line and plowed into their compact, but those were the breaks to Patricia’s mind.

  Now she could cross another off her list.

  She’d crossed Frederick Mosebly off the list on a balmy summer night—pre-Hilda—with an explosive device she’d stuck under the driver’s seat of his unlocked car.

  That check mark especially pleased her as Mosebly had some minor local success with a self-published book he’d written about the DownEast Mall. And more, it was the first time she’d built a bomb.

  She thought she had a knack for it.

  She checked off her third for the year—had to spread them out awhile longer—by bumping into him in a crowded bar and jabbing him with a syringe of botulinum toxin. It seemed poetic as Dr. David Wu—who’d been having predinner drinks with his wife and another couple at the upscale restaurant and had been credited with having saved lives on that fateful night—was a cosmetic surgeon.

  Patricia figured since he made a living (a rich one) injecting people with Botox, he could die being injected with the same basic substance.

  She disposed of the syringe on the way home, and slipped quietly into the house.

  For a moment, a sweet, sweet moment, she thought her prayers had been answered.

  Her grandmother lay on the floor of the foyer. Moaning, so … still breathing, but that could be remedied.

  On another moan, her grandmother turned her head. “Patti, Patti. (God, she hated that nickname.) Thank God. I—I fell. I hit my head. I think, oh, oh, I think I broke my hip.”

  Could be finished, Patricia thought. She just had to put a hand over the old bitch’s mouth, pinch her nose closed, and—

  “Agnes! I can’t find the remote! Where did you…”

  Her grandfather shuffled out of the first-floor master suite, brow furrowed in annoyance over his bifocals.

  He saw his wife, let out a cry, and Patricia acted fast.

  “Oh my God, Gram!” She lunged forward, dropped to her knees, gripped her grandmother’s hand.

  “I fell. I fell.”

  “It’s all right. It’s going to be all right.” She yanked her phone out of her purse, hit nine-one-one. “I need an ambulance!” She rattled off the address, careful to put a good shake into her voice. “My grandmother fell. Hurry, please hurry. Grandpa, get Gram a blanket. She’s shivering. Get the throw off the sofa. I think she’s in shock. Hold on, Gram. I’m right here.”

  So the night wouldn’t be a lucky twofer, Patricia thought as she gently, so gently, stroked her grandmother’s cheek. But a broken hip (hopefully!) and an eighty-three-year-old woman had lots of potential.

  Patricia hid her bitter disappointment when Agnes recovered. And she earned the admiration of the medical staff, the aides, and the neighbors with every performance of devoted caregiving.

  She used the time to persuade her grandparents to not only give her power of attorney—the lawyers agreed—but to put her name on every account—checking, investments, the main residence, and the vacation home/investment property they owned on Cape May.

  As she’d inherit her grandmother’s jewelry anyway, she took some pieces now and again and converted them into cash on drives to Augusta or Bangor—and once on a weekend holiday (at the urging of the doctors)—to Bar Harbor.

  She converted some of the cash into good fake identification, and used that to open a small bank account—and to rent a safe-deposit box in a bank in Rochester, New Hampshire.

  Between the jewelry, the regular skimming, the sale of the vacation home her grandparents were too stupid to know they signed off on, she had more than three million dollars in the box, along with four fake IDs, including passports and credit cards.

  She kept a cool hundred thousand in cash with other essentials in a run-for-the-hills bag in the top of her closet, and had started a second bag.

  As neither of her grandparents used the steps any longer, she had the entire second floor to herself. She installed police locks on her master suite, and the guest suite she used as a workshop.

  If the weekly housekeeper found it odd the second floor was off-limits, she said nothing. She was paid well, and it meant less work.

  As the next anniversary of the DownEast Mall approached, Patricia made plans. Lots of plans.

  And crossed a couple more off the list.

  * * *

  Seleena McMullen rode the approach to July 22 on her blog and on her talk show. It gave her a chance to hype the updated edition of her book.

  She didn’t quibble over the fact that the tragedy had made her career. As a matter of routine, every time a lunatic shot up a public place, she served as a talking head on cable TV.

  She did the circuit every couple of years and raked in decent speaking fees. She’d copped a gig as executive producer on a well-received documentary about the shooting and, when things were really cooking, snagged a small guest shot on Law & Order: SVU.

  It ebbed and flowed, she could admit that; every anniversary she pumped it up, and she’d be front and center.

  She had staff, an agent, a hot boyfriend—after a brief marriage and a messy divorce. Still, the divorce and the hot boyfriend had bumped up the rating
s and clicks.

  They’d go through the roof with the lineup she had for the anniversary week.

  She had the cop who’d taken out Hobart. Admittedly, Seleena had to pressure the mayor to pressure the cop’s captain to pressure the cop, but she had her. She couldn’t get the once teenage hero, now the cop’s partner, and that stuck in her throat.

  Portland PD had given her a choice, one or the other, not both. She’d gone with the female cop, the first on scene, and let the other go.

  She had a woman who’d been in the theater and nearly died—and lived with facial scarring and brain trauma. She’d booked the geek who’d saved a store full of people by barricading them in a back room, some other victims, an EMT, one of the ER doctors from that night.

  But the shining jewel? The sister of the shooter, the baby sister of the ringleader.

  She had Patricia Jane Hobart.

  Even with that, and that was huge as Hobart’s sister had never, to date, given a formal interview, Seleena stalked around her office fuming.

  She wanted the damn hat trick. The cop, Hobart’s sister, and Simone Knox—the nine-one-one caller who’d first alerted the police so McVee took Hobart out.

  The bitch wouldn’t even take her calls. Had actually had some asshole lawyer send her a cease and desist when she’d tracked Simone down at an art gallery in New York.

  A public event, Seleena thought now. And she’d had a perfect—First fucking Amendment right—to stick a mic in her face.

  She didn’t appreciate being kicked out of the gallery for doing her job.

  She’d written a blistering editorial on the treatment she’d received, and on the bitch herself. And would have printed it, too, if her ex—before he found out about the boyfriend and became her ex—hadn’t convinced her it would make her look like the bitch.

  She hated knowing he’d had that right.

  Well, she could play that nine-one-one call, and would. She could toss Simone Knox’s name around and maybe insinuate that, as a somewhat celebrated artist, Miss Knox no longer wanted an association with the tragedy of DownEast Mall.

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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
new Nora Roberts book
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