IN THE MORNING, close to 8:30, I walk over to the elevator, push the ‘up’ button and step out, across from Charlotte’s room. All seems quiet and normal and I am hoping it is the same inside. I knock and she opens the door, scurrying at once back to her desk and computer. “Come on in. There’s coffee in the pot and some sweet rolls on the counter. Meredith was up and out of here by about eight.” She seems absorbed at her keyboard.
“What’s so intriguing?” I ask.
“Been investigating a few things. Did you know that researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that inthe last decade, the mortality rate for older women has increased two-hundred-thirty percent from poi- soning?”
“How would I know that?”
Ignoring me, she says, “A spokesman noted that the spike is traced to a dramatic rise in the use of powerful painkillers.”
This catches my attention. “Aha! Another potential culprit in Claire’s death.”
“Have to be open to anything,” she says.
Good, strong coffee. I sip and am quiet for a moment, as Charlotte says, “Another thing that might interest you: I checked the weather reports for yesterday and last night–interested in why Trudy’s grandson could not get here.”
“The desk clerk said it was weather.”
“Yes, but she also said the young man was coming from Florida. There was no inclement weather in Florida all day and evening yes- terday–except for a light rainstorm in St. Petersburg. And if it was supposed to be our local weather that grounded his flight, that also is hard to believe. Though we had some local fog, New York and Phil- adelphia, our two closest major airports, had virtually clear weather from three in the afternoon on.”
“What are you getting at?”
“As the fisherman says, something smells fishy. Not with Brenda–she’s only the messenger–but withTrudy’s grandson wanting the apartment and then canceling.”
“Trudy is the ninety-year-old with a cane?” “That’s right, and a cantankerous sort.”
“Pure conjecture at this point, but it is possible that the man wanted to leave a record of having been unable to get here–when, in fact, he may have been here all along.”
“Holy crap! Another possible scenario–but detectives could eas- ily check out the passenger lists and find out if he was listed on one of them.”
“The impression he may have wanted to give was for the Village, and he may have thought it would not get to any detectives…”
“Okay, but why? What would Trudy’s grandson have to be stealthy about?”
“Don’t know, but if I take a wild guess, it might be to quietly and secretly help Trudy with some caper she’s involved in.”
“Trudy, a ninety-year-old who walks with a wooden cane? You think she could be a suspect in all this?”
“Brother, until the perp is found, we’re all suspects. Really, now, Trudy could hardly have executedsome nefarious deed all by herself, though she could have thought one up and enlisted her grandson to carry it out, uh…persuaded him that she was somehow an injured party who needed redress. Sort of far-fetched, but not impossible.”
“If that were the case, he would have to have been here for a couple of weeks, at least.”
“Not out of the question,” Charlotte says softly.
She focuses again on her computer, and, in a moment adds, “I also have learned that strokes are affecting more and more elderly folks without proper diagnoses–they are often mild or moderate, and goundetected and untreated, and then a stronger one occurs, like the straw that…well, you know.”
“The autopsy will certainly reveal if Claire had a stroke.”
“Yes, and it will also discover what, if any, of the several over- doses we’ve been learning about could be the culprit. I think the ex- huming of the body might take place tomorrow. I’ll check with Dr. Doolittle.”
“I’m not letting you out of my sight today, just in case.”
She touches my arm. “You’re such a doting brother. Tell you what; let’s go over to the workout room. This time of day, some twenty or more residents are involved in guided exercises. I’m pretty sure Trudy goes every day–and Freda as well.”
It is a five-minute walk to the general elevator near the lobby desk, and we take it down to the basement level which houses a TV room, a bar (which seems unused), and at the far side a door marked GYM.
“This level is for recreation,” Charlotte says. “On occasion, there is a birthday party or some other celebration, and they open the bar for wine and beer. No hard stuff.”
Indeed, I see about two dozen folks, almost all women, some sitting on mats, others in wheelchairs, following the lead of a hand- some, youthful, and sickeningly fit-looking coach. His voice is clear and strong, yet soothing.
Charlotte adds on, “Tomorrow at noon we are having a memorial for Claire in this area. Wepostponed it for a while, but the admin- istration here doesn’t like to drag things out. They say the residents need closure.”
“A memorial? Who will speak, Char? You, I presume.”
“I’ll say a few words. The management will have an appropriate eulogy to present, and any of her friends, either in the Village or out, will be encouraged to speak.”
“So, outsiders will be invited?”
“The people from New Hope who knew her will be coming, and perhaps our pharmacist, Oscar. I’m not sure about any of the MDs– they realize that folks here pass every couple of weeks, and they can’t attend all the services.”
“Morbid,” I say.
“Not really. No one lives forever. The only thing about eldercare facilities is that all the residents are in the last quarter of their lives. Death is only a whisper away.”
Internally I wince, since I am profoundly aware that Charlotte includes herself in that observation.
The coach, with his arms high over his head, says, “Five-minute break. No food. Water is okay. Don’tgo far. We start again at 9:10 on the dot.”
He seems to recognize Charlotte and walks up to us.
“Hey, what a blast! All these beautiful people. Love to see ‘em moving around. It’ll help ’em to livelonger. How come you’re not out here?”
“I exercise in my room,” Charlotte says, smiling at him, “and I walk a lot.”
“Gotta fill those lungs. Gotta get that heart a-pumping. We’re not sedentary creatures. If you don’t use it, you lose it.”
“I agree. Even our partially disabled folks can stir the blood with a workout.”
“You got it. The body is a temple. Got to treat it with respect.”
I am aware that this fellow–and as of this moment, I don’t know his name–speaks in aphorisms. He is one well-conditioned cliché.
“This is my brother, Greg. This is Tommy Cox, our physical education coach.”
We shake hands, his firm and meaty. He squeezes hard, almost to the point of pain, with a grin that says he knows what he’s doing.
“Sorry about the old, blind gal who kicked off. She never wanted to do the routine. I told her once, if you rest, you rust, but she only laughed at me. Well, got to get back to my flock,” he says. “Life is an adventure. Lots of these folks are on safari, unknown territory: exer- cise, for God’s sake! Who’d believe it?”
When he leaves, Charlotte leans toward me. “He’s goofy,” she says. “Likes to pontificate. Not sure he quite appreciated Claire’s sit- uation. But, look there.” She points to the opposite side of the large room, to a triangle of soft chairs around a low table. Seated in one of the chairs is a youngish man with blonde hair that splashes over his right eye. He wears a bright yellow and black sweater, jeans, and tennis shoes. He is tan, tall, and well built.
“I have a hunch,” Charlotte says, “that we are looking at Trudy’s grandson. We ought to go over and meet him.”
The fellow rises dutifully as we approach, nods, and says, “I’m Sam Capizi, Trudy Langella’s grandson.”
“Charlotte and Greg Smart. I’m a resident, and my brother is a visitor.”
He looks at us oddly, as if not sure why we are speaking with him. I defer to my sister, since she seems to know what she’s doing and what to say.
“You’re a visitor, too,” Charlotte says. “When did you get in?”
“To town. You’re from down south somewhere–I can tell from your tan. Up here, by November, we lose ours; well, except for my brother here, who is from California.”
Sam nods again, seemingly his standard act before speaking, and says, “I have business in New York, but decided to visit Grandma for a day or two.”
“Oh,” Charlotte says, “what kind of business?”
I am aware that he did not answer her first question.
“I’m in entertainment.”
“Movies, music, television, stage?” I put in.
“All of those. Promotion.”
“Well, Sam Capizi, it was certainly a pleasure meeting you. Trudy is fortunate to have such a doting grandson,” Charlotte says, and nudges me as if clinching that we are through and need to move on.
We stroll back across the room, circling the gaggle of exercisers, which has slightly diminished in number from before the break. Tommy Cox has an upbeat tape playing selections from Music Man: “Seventy-six-Trombones.”
He winks at us as we leave the room.
Out in the corridor, Charlotte turns to me. “Wild goose chase. That young fellow didn’t do it.”
“Do it? You mean Sam? He didn’t kill Claire?”
“How do you know that?”
“Timidity. Did you see his eyes? On the edge of fear; on the brink of panic. The perpetrator of this crime–pardon my French–needed balls. I could be wrong, but Sammy-boy, in there, is a mouse. I’ll bet he only asserts himself if there’s a monetary payoff, and I don’t believe his assertion about being a promoter. My guess is he’s a gofer. He may work in entertainment for an agency that does PR, but, with his attitude and personality, I’ll lay odds he’s the errand boy.”
“You’re not a gambler.”
“Okay, so let’s just say, my hunch is…what I said.”
“He did seem rather terse.”
“That’s his style. Check his manner and you will see; he is un- comfortable in social settings. A behind-the-scenes worker bee, probably sent to New York as a messenger.”
“How come I don’t pick up any of that stuff?”
“When I get the chance, I’ll consult with Trudy about him,” Charlotte says. “Always like to double-check my perceptions. Meanwhile, we have only one day before the autopsy report and the memorial, so what do you say to living-it-up a bit? I propose that, as soon as Meredith returns, we head over to Princeton–it’s just a forty-minute drive.”
“I’d like that,” I say. “Something elegant about Princeton.”
My shrewd sister. Cross off one suspect.
If you’re enjoying CHARLOTTE and would like to blog about book two in the series, ACCIDENT, please contact my publisher who will hook you up with a free copy!