THIRTEEN – MALLED
Saturday afternoon found Grant browsing the shops at the Flatiron Mall. He’d spent the morning working out and puttering around the mansion until he could stand the isolation no longer.
The Winslow home was far too big for just one person, but Grant didn’t have the heart to sell the family estate. Nor did he want to lay off the servants who’d stayed with him after his uncle’s death.
Not surprisingly, most of the staff preferred working under Grant to dealing with his cantankerous, late uncle. Over the past months he’d gradually won over those who hadn’t warmed to him immediately. Or so he thought.
Only one man had left Grant’s services since he inherited the family home and business: Stroika, his uncle’s chauffeur and personal assistant.
As Grant had told Ivy, he wasn’t sorry to see the man go. Grant had never been sure just what Stroika had assisted his uncle with, but he got the feeling it was no good. No, Stroika’s imposing frame and sinister demeanor weren’t missed around the mansion, not by Grant or the rest of the staff.
That morning, preoccupied with thoughts of Ivy and distracted by the Green Hills problem, Stroika was the farthest thing from Grant’s mind.
The police called early in the morning. They’d turned up no sign of the mad preacher who had accosted Grant and Ivy the previous day, though they combed the cemetery and the surrounding area. Grant’s friend, officer Rick, speculated that the man might be Ben Stringer, a fugitive the media had dubbed “The Naughty Preacher.” Reverend Stringer had killed his wife in a strange S&M game a few months back and later escaped from custody.
The police promised Grant they would step up patrols around the cemetery and keep an eye out for his interests. In his heart, Grant doubted they’d find anything.
So, he left the confines and worries of the mansion behind and drove downtown to the newly renovated shopping center.
The mall had undergone a transformation while Grant was away, blossoming from a 1960’s-style strip of brick buildings into a modern, multi-level retail complex.
Architecturally, Grant had little use for modern malls, but he did understand and appreciate their social value. He meandered through the brightly-lit thoroughfares, imagining ways that the buildings might be made more energy efficient. He noted with satisfaction that most of the lighting was “warm” florescent and wondered how well-insulated the structure might be. Then he chuckled and chided himself.
Grant, you’re in grave danger of becoming a one-issue wunderkind, he thought. Can’t you ever leave work at the office?
Grant knew the answer was no, but he used a meditation technique Colleen had taught him to push the thoughts aside and concentrate on living in the present. Funny that Colleen Ng, who had taught him so much about meditation, should be so wrapped up in her own tempestuous emotions. He pushed that thought aside as well.
On his way to the food court, he passed Jeb and Farrah Smith. He waved and called out, but if the siblings noticed him, they gave no response. Only slightly disappointed, Grant continued on to Siu Wing’s restaurant. He ordered vegetarian fried rice, picked a table near the edge of the third level balcony, sat and watched the throngs of humanity as he ate.
Grant was so intent on his meal and people-watching that he didn’t even notice when a friend walked up.
“Grant? I thought that was you. What are you doing here?”
Grant turned at the familiar sound of Nancy Stapleton’s voice and smiled. “Eating. What’s it look like?”
Nancy blushed slightly and brushed her blond hair back from her face. The action made the charms on her bracelet jingle. “Eating,” she said, rolling her pale blue eyes to show she knew what a stupid question it had been. “Mind if I join you?”
Grant pulled out a chair for her. “Not at all. Just promise me we’re not going to discuss work.”
Nancy put her right hand over her breast and smiled. “Cross my heart.” The action called Grant’s attention to her considerable bosom. She wore purple today, and looked more ready for a boardroom meeting than a shopping expedition.
“So,” he said, “what brings you here?”
“New shoes,” she replied, apparently unaware of the pun. “I’m afraid I rather ruined the set I wore out to the site the other day.”
“If you like, I could pay for them.”
“Oh, no,” she said. “It’s my fault. I should have known better. Next time I’ll carry a pair of spare boots in the car like your friend, Ivy. Whenever next time might be.” She paused and looked into his eyes. “Do you have any idea when the police might reopen the site?”
He shook his head. “None whatsoever. They hardly mentioned it when I spoke to them this morning.”
“Spoke to them? About what?”
“Oh, Ivy and I had a run-in with a weirdo out at the cemetery yesterday.”
“The cemetery? What were you doing out there? Oh, I’m sorry. I ask too many questions.”
“No. Don’t worry about it. We were just out walking, visiting our parents’ graves.”
Nancy reached across the table and put her hand on his. “Grant, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m terribly sorry about your parents.”
Grant sighed. “Yeah. Me, too.” He looked around distractedly. “Look, Nancy, it’s been nice seeing you, but I really should be going.”
“Anyplace special? Oh! There! I did it again.”
“No,” Grant said, laughing, “just puttering around a bit.”
“Would you like company?”
Grant looked at her, trying to read the intentions in her eyes. But years of working in advertising gave Nancy a face most poker-players would have envied. He shook his head.
“No thanks,” he said. “I’ve just got a couple of errands to run.”
She stood and straightened her skirt. “So do I. Well, nice seeing you, then.”
Grant stood and nodded. “Yes. You, too.”
“See you around.” She turned and strode proudly into the crowd thronging the food court. Eyes followed her as she passed.
Grant picked up a new pair of boots and some winter gloves at Sears, then headed for the parking lot.
But when he got there, he discovered that both the Honda’s driver-side tires had gone flat. He used his cell-phone to call AAA. It took them the better part of forty-five minutes to get there. He turned down a ride from Nancy as he waited.
Fortunately, the tires only needed air.
“Now, I wonder how that happened,” Grant mused.
“Sometimes the cold weather does funny things to tires,” said the repairman. “Especially in new cars.”
Grant nodded. Plenty of funny things had been happening lately.