AFTER THE RAIN, a dense fog settles in around Bigelow Village as evening arrives.Mystery tales have conditioned me to think of fog as a cover for stealth, where bad guys hide and strike without warning from the darkness.
We eat in the cafeteria, which is good for me, because I see the various residents again, and it reminds me of their attitudes and be- liefs. Charlotte is amazingly neutral about possible suspects in Claire’s death. I am impatient and want to settle on one.
We walk back to Charlotte’s apartment, and see a slip of paper taped to her door.
She unfolds it and reads:
YOU’RE NOT LISTENING.
“All right,” I say. “This frightens me. I know you don’t scare easily, but this idiot, whoever it is, is threatening you. I don’t think you ought to be alone.”
Meredith says, “Tell you what; I’ll stay with you for the night, Charlotte. I have to go across the river to Trenton tomorrow for about three hours for a court hearing with a family I’ve been moni- toring. But other than that, I can be with you.”
My big sister waves her hand. “I don’t need protection. But, I’m happy to have you spend the night with me–if you don’t mind sleeping on the couch.”
“My favorite spot,” Meredith says.
“Why don’t the two of us drive you to your motel, Greg. You need a good night’s sleep too.”
“The fog will make driving a challenge. Is there someplace in the complex where I can stay?”
“They have a rental apartment. I would have to see if it’s available.”
“Okay. It’s not a matter of money,” Greg says. “I want us all to be safe in this…hostile crucible.”
“Hostile crucible–who would ever think a retirement village would earn that peculiar name?” Charlotte asks.
“Who would think,” Meredith asks rhetorically, “a retirement vil- lage could harbor a killer?”
“If it’s one of the residents we saw in the dining room, he or she would have had to slip away to post that little note. See anyone leave early?” I ask.
“People were coming and going,” Charlotte says. “The note might have been left at any time in the hour we were there.”
“Or, if anybody knew we were eating, an outsider could have delivered it,” Meredith adds.
“The fog makes it unlikely that an outsider was observing us,” Charlotte says. “Or, on the other hand, it could be the perfect cam- ouflage for someone in a parked car, perhaps peering through win- dows and doors with binoculars.”
“Yes,” I reply, “and the moment he or she saw us leave for the dining hall, slip in and tape up the note.” “Lots of possibilities,” Meredith says.
We amble over to the lobby, passing three or four folks moving about with walkers, and one in awheelchair. They all know Charlotte and seem to brighten when she speaks to them. Brenda is the monitor at the desk, a middle-aged woman with a soft look and businesslike manner. She greets Charlotte agreeably.
“There’s that sparkling lady,” Brenda says. “What do you need?” “Well, I’ll get my mail from the slots back there, but also, my brother and I are wondering if your guest apartment is available for the night. He has a motel room, but wants to avoid traveling back there, at least for tonight.”
“You’re in luck. Trudy’s grandson from Florida had reserved it, but his flight was cancelled todaybecause of bad weather. It’s seventy dollars, check or credit card.”
The guest apartment is on the first floor, half way down a corri- dor that angles off to the left from the one that holds Charlotte’s elevator.
She points it out and says, “You two go down and check it out.
I’m going to get ready for bed.”
I have a moment of trepidation: ought she to be going off alone, even for a few minutes? But since the halls are empty and no one seems to be stirring and Charlotte waves us away, I acquiesce.
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