Thanks to those who are following along! I appreciate those who have the patience to stick with a serial.
If you're interested in the other part of my life that's requiring a lot of attention right now, I signed my lease for my new office space this morning. Now it's on to the details like phone and internet. Yeah, I already took care of the fun stuff like decorating.
On to the story...
They wound through several lavishly decorated rooms until they reached the kitchen, large with marble countertops, a huge island under a pot rack, and stainless steel appliances. It was bigger than some restaurant kitchens Thom had seen. The widow sat at the table in front of a window that would have let the afternoon light in, but was shaded by plantation blinds. A wilted piece of mint garnished the melting ice cubes and amber-colored liquid in a highball glass in front of her.
"Well?" she asked. She squinted at them through puffy, red eyes. Her iron-colored curls would have likely been in perfect order from her weekly visit to the salon, but her hair stood in spikes, maybe from where she had run her hands through it.
"Mrs. Lancaster?" asked Thom. No matter how many times he'd done this, guilt overwhelmed him at disturbing the survivor's grief.
"Yep. Widow Lancaster. That's me."
"I'm so, so sorry for your loss!" Debtra stepped in front of Thom and took the woman's hand in hers, covering it with her other one. "Please forgive us for disturbing you."
"Now you're a right pretty young lady," Mrs. Lancaster said and squeezed Debtra's hand. Her eyes seemed to clear a little. "What're you doing here and not in school or some shop? Are you a cop? You don't look like one."
"No, ma'am," Thom said. "She and Professor Homily here are experts in the kind of events that happened this morning. If you could just answer a few of their questions, we can leave you alone."
She motioned for them to sit around the table but didn't let go of Debtra's hand, so the young woman sat beside her.
"We were married for twenty-three years," Mrs. Lancaster said. "Twenty-three! Do you know how many people don't even last twenty-three months?"
"That's quite a stretch," Thom agreed. "Can you tell us what happened this morning?"
"Hell if I know," the widow growled. "I was off with Bill the policeman picking up trash, and I heard this noise. But I don't know if it was a noise. I felt it more than I heard it, like my ears got stuffy and then went Pop!" She sniffled and took a sip of her drink.
"Did you notice anything in the air?" asked the Professor. "Did it feel like it changed temperature?"
The ice clinked in the glass when she put it down. "Now that you mention it, it got hotter. I thought I was having a flash, but Bill was wiping his face, too, and I know he's not going through menopause."
Homily nodded and looked at Debtra.
"What did you do then?" Debtra asked.
"I yelled out to Mike, asking if he was okay, and I didn't hear an answer, so I went back the way we came and saw that the general was gone. Just…gone." She wiped her eyes with her free hand and squeezed Debtra's with the other. "Like Mike, it was just gone. He was lying there with stuff all over him, black dust and blood. I tried to shake him, but he didn't respond. Bill did CPR on him, but it didn't work, and…" The woman broke down in tears, sobs that seemed to come from her stomach.
"Shhh, it's okay," Debtra stroked her hand, and the woman looked at her, calming. "Is there anything else?"
The latter question was addressed to Thom and the Professor.
"Just a couple more things," Homily said. "What did your husband do?"
The widow's eyes never left Debtra's, and she spoke as though in a trance. "He owns – owned – a chain of jewelry stores. Best sapphires in town!"
"Did he have any connection with the statue?"
Now Mrs. Lancaster frowned. "Yes, actually. That general had been in the Civil War, and he was Mike's great-great uncle or something."
Homily stood. "Thank you, and again, we're sorry for disturbing you."
"Quite all right. I'm going to take a nap now. My children will be here soon."
Debtra gave her hand one more squeeze and stood. The men did so as well, and Thom took a deep breath when he got outside. Something about the atmosphere in the house had gradually closed in on him, wrapped around him like a blanket, making him warm and soothed and comforted. He was glad the others had done more of the talking.
"Nicely done, Debtra," Homily said after they got in the car, Thom's dark blue Chevy Cavalier. "But next time, you might want to warn poor Thom here. He seems to be more sensitive than he claimed."
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'll focus better next time."
"What?" Thom started the car.
"Dreadfully sorry," said Homily, but he didn't sound it. "That's part of what I want to talk to you about. Now how about the policeman?"
Thom checked his watch: three in the afternoon. "He works nights, so he's probably sleeping, but we can stop by and see if he's up."
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