NINETEEN – PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE
When Grant and Ivy entered the Green Leaf Tea Room, Rick Christopher and Cassie Peters were already waiting at the bar.
“Well, hey, slowpokes,” said Rick. “What kept you?” He’d doffed his police uniform in favor of a plaid shirt and jeans. Cassie wore a tight-fitting black dress with matching tank top and a white demi-jacket.
“Tied up at the office,” explained Grant.
“Ooh,” said Cassie, smiling. “Sounds fun.” Rick gave her a quick hug and smiled, too.
Ivy rolled her eyes as she and Grant sat down next to their friends.
“What’ll ya have, folks?” asked the bartender.
“Cranberry juice and Vodka for me,” said Grant, “Coke for the lady.” The bartender went to fetch the drinks.
Cassie poked Ivy in the ribs with her elbow. “Still playing the chaste twenty-year-old, Ivy?” she asked playfully.
Ivy frowned. Obviously, her friend had started celebrating a bit early. Cassie never was very good at holding her liquor. “I don’t want to break the law,” she said seriously. “Your boyfriend might arrest me.”
Rick put down his ginger ale and shook his head. “Not me. I’m off duty. Besides, ain’t no use arresting you Frosts anyway. I heard you got a permanent get-out-of-jail free card.”
“So, how long we gonna have to wait for a table?” asked Grant, squirming slightly on his stool.
“Any time you’re ready,” said Rick, standing. “They freed one up about ten minutes ago.”
“That’s lucky,” said Ivy. “Not many places open on Monday nights. I’d’ve thought they’d be busier.”
“And make the Frost-Winslow party wait?” said Cassie. “Not bloody likely.”
Ivy and Grant frowned. They both disliked using their position for cheap advantage. But there was nothing to be done about it now. Ivy reminded herself to mention it to Cassie later; she assumed Grant would do the same with Rick.
They flagged the hostess, and the four of them adjourned to a booth in the back corner of the building’s first floor.
The Green Leaf Tea Room was dimly lit during the daytime; at night it could be almost gloomy. Sconced candles provided most of the illumination. The ambiance took some getting used to. Still, soon they could see well enough to read the menus. A few minutes later a waitress came by and took their order.
“They should have glow-in-the-dark menus,” Grant commented after she’d gone.
Ivy chuckled. “Good idea. It would add to the place’s mystic aura.”
“I don’t know how they see to serve the food,” Cassie remarked.
“They keep it this dark because they don’t want you to see the food,” Rick joked. “Maybe I should take up moonlighting as a health inspector.”
“I’ve seen the inside of your cop car,” said Grant. “I don’t think you’d pass the exam. So,” he continued, leaning back and putting his hands behind his head, “you guys ever going to figure out who that skeleton belonged to and give me my subdivision back?”
Rick took a sip of his drink. “As a matter of fact,” he said, “we police do our jobs upon occasion.”
“So, you know who it is?” said Ivy.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” asked Cassie.
Rick shook his head at her. “Wanted the Big Man to know first, darlin’. Of course, you didn’t hear this from me…”
“But the woman in the unmarked grave was Jill Collins.”
Grant dropped his drink. “Jill Collins? Jesus!”
Ivy looked at him with concern and helped him mop up the spill with a napkin. “Grant, do you know her?” Ivy asked.
“I… Yes. She was my uncle’s secretary before Kay. She left town just before I did.”
“That was the story at the time, anyway,” said Rick. “Looks like she never made it out of Frosthaven after all.”
“Shit,” said Grant, looking like he’d just been hit in the head.
“Had a hell of a time identifying her,” Rick continued, “what with no dental records being available. Finally traced a piece of jewelry we found near the corpse.”
“Ugh!” said Cassie, shuddering. “Dead all these years and no one even knowing it.”
“She didn’t have any close family,” said Rick. “No one to miss her.”
“Jesus,” said Grant, sounding as if he were a million miles away. “She was my friend. She wasn’t much older than me.”
Ivy put her arm around him. “It’s okay, babe. Do you want to go home?”
Grant shook his head. “No. I’ll be all right. It just never occurred to me that she might be dead. I thought she had a fight with my uncle or something and just packed up. He told me she’d quit. I don’t think he ever really liked her.”
“Old Abner never liked anybody,” put in Rick.
“He liked his money well enough, though,” said Grant. “Shit. I wondered at the time what happened to her, where she went.”
“We still don’t know,” said Rick. “And unless we find her head, we may never know.”
“So, you’ll be keeping the site off limits for a while longer?” asked Ivy.
“No, as a matter of fact. We think we’ve found just about everything we can without tearing the whole place up.”
“My workers can tear the place up as well as your cops,” noted Grant.
“That’s what we figure. So, we’re turning the site back to you. Chief’s gonna ask your folks to keep an eye out for more evidence, though.”
“That’ll be no problem. Maybe I could make a couple of the buildings near where we found the body from rammed earth rather than concrete. That way we’d have to sift through the dirt on site before mixing it with cement.”
“Sounds like a plan,” agreed Rick. “The Chief’ll probably be pretty grateful for the help. Four-year-old homicide of a girl with no relatives or friends in the area doesn’t leave a cop with a lot of places to start.”
“Helping the cops sift evidence, Grant…” Ivy mused. “I’m sure you’ll hear no end of it from Randolph Byrd. I don’t think he likes learning new things.”
“Well, if he doesn’t straighten up soon,” said Grant, “he’s going to have to learn to kiss his ass goodbye. I’ve had just about enough of his shit.”
At that point, the food came, and the foursome settled into more pleasant dinnertime conversation. They finished with baklava and the usual fresh-brewed green tea. After eating, Cassie suggested they have Madame Meg tell their fortunes.
Ivy shook her head. “Oh, no. You’re not getting me up there again. That lady loves to predict doom and gloom.”
“I’ll pass, too,” said Grant. “I’ve never much believed in that kind of mumbo-jumbo.”
“Party poops!” said Cassie.
“At least come along with us,” urged Rick. “You might get a giggle out of it.”
“All right, all right,” said Grant. Ivy and he reluctantly followed the other two up the restaurant’s back stairs.
They found Madame Meg seated in her usual spot under the rosette window in the back corner. “Did you bring the tea leaves, or would you like the cards—or perhaps the I-Ching today?”
“Leaves will do nicely, thank you very much,” said Rick, placing his empty cup before her.
“Me, too,” said Cassie.
“One at a time,” said Meg, taking up the officer’s cup. “I see changes in store for you,” she said.
Rick smiled. “A promotion, I hope!”
“Your personal life will be in turmoil for a while, but it will settle down again once the changes take effect.”
“Shoot,” said Rick. “I hope that doesn’t mean you’re pregnant, Cassie.”
Astonishingly, Cassie blushed. Ivy seldom remembered seeing her friend blush before.
“I think we’ve been careful enough,” Cass said sheepishly.
“Enough joking,” said Meg, “you’ve ruined the spirits. I’ll have to move on to the young lady.”
“Please,” said Rick.
Meg peered into Cassie’s cup and swirled the leaves around. “I see trouble on the horizon for you, terrible, dark trouble. You will cast your net wide on the sea of fate, but beware! The fish you catch will be poison.”
“Well, isn’t that nice,” Rick mumbled softly to the other three.
“I see someone crying a word… Alp! Alp! Their heart is filled with terror.”
“Not planning to take up mountaineering, are you Cass?” asked Grant.
Cassie shook her head, but what the fortune teller said plainly disturbed her.
“Maybe they mean ‘Help! Help!’ but they’ve just got a bad French accent,” Rick suggested lightheartedly.
“Ach! The spirits are gone again. I can see no more,” Meg declared. Cassie placed the traditional silver coins for payment on Meg’s table. “Go now,” said the fortune teller, “and come back when you are willing to listen.”
“Thanks, Meg,” said Rick. “Maybe I can fix a parking ticket for you some time.”
They went downstairs to the cash register to pay their bill. As usual, Grant picked up the tab.
“That’s one thing I like about you, Winslow,” said Rick. “Every time we eat together, I eat for free.”
Grant smiled. “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.”
“Cass, are you all right?” Ivy asked. Her friend still looked pale.
Cassie nodded. “I’m okay. I think something I ate didn’t agree with me.”
“I better get you home, then,” Rick said, grinning almost from ear to ear.
“Please,” said Cassie, putting her arm around him.
“You folks need a police escort to your limos?” Rick asked Ivy and Grant.
Grant shook his head. “No thanks. I parked the Honda up the street.”
“Is that the electric one, or the compressed gas one?” asked Cassie.
“Ooh,” said Rick. “You’ll have to show me that some time. Figures when your jeep blew up, you’d get into that alternative energy crap.”
Grant smiled. “You know me, I’m just full of crap.”
“Right now, though,” Rick continued, “I want to get this gal home and tucked into bed.”
“Don’t let him fool you,” said Cassie. “He wants me to tuck him in as well.” The two of them waved and walked off down the street in the opposite direction.
“I don’t know about them,” said Grant when the two were out of earshot. “Sure, the sex is probably great, but they don’t have very much in common.”
Ivy nodded. “Cassie’s always had trouble sustaining relationships. She’s never been able to find any one man to satisfy her.”
Grant put his arm around her shoulder. “As opposed to you?” he asked.
She smiled up at him. “We’ll find out about that satisfying part one day,” she said. “Promise.”
“I told you, I’m willing to wait,” he said.
“And I love you for it.” She squeezed him to her as they walked.
When they reached Grant’s white, converted Honda, they discovered a piece of paper on the windshield.
“Damn,” said Grant, plucking it from under the wiper, “I was sure I fed the meter. They stop ticketing at seven, don’t they?”
Ivy nodded. “I think so.”
Grant unfolded the piece of paper and looked at it. “It’s not a ticket.”
“What’s it say?” Ivy asked, crowding close to see.
The dead know no rest
Their souls are hungry
You’re being watched
I’ve seen them