Chapter Fifteen

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I gunned the engine of my tiny blue Renault to race away from Angelina Karlson's house, the scene of my most recent humiliation, and headed home.

However, fifteen minutes later, I found myself pulling into my mother's driveway instead of into my usual parking spot in front of my apartment in Victorian Village.

My family is Scottish, but since my mother's second husband is a lowlander named Lampson, I always refer to their joint dwelling as Chez Swede. My mother being Swedish by marriage only.

The Swede in question, Olaf by name, was actually in attendance when I arrived, and he was accompanied by my mother's other stalwart companion, a Basenji hound named Otto. Like Olaf, the dog had been added after I went to college. Dog Breath, at least, I liked.

In contrast to Chez Mama, Chez Swede was all light wood and plants. And the air smelled of mashed potatoes instead of red pasta sauce.

Dinner was already in progress, but my mother offered to get me a plate. For once, I let her run into the kitchen. That left the Swede and me alone in the dining room, but I figured he'd be too busy eating to bother talking. I sat in the chair next to my mother's place at the table.

"Your mother, she's worried," he said into his coffee cup.

Since the Swede never made idle conversation, I cut to the chase. "About?"

"Again a murder where you work."

He didn't need to put emphasis on the word to remind me that I seemed to find employment in dangerous locations. Twice in my life I argued with co-workers, and twice they turned up dead. Maybe I needed to learn to play nice with others.

"I'm not investigating this one," I said.

"Or the last one either." The Swede didn't glance up from his dinner plate, but I could have sworn I heard an arch tone in his accented voice. That wasn't possible because the Swede didn't have a sense of humor. The guy laughed at Family Circus in the Sunday comics.

"Look," I said, "I've cinched it this time. Even a rock head like Lieutenant Karlson should be able to figure it out."

"Figure what out?"

It was my mother, and she carried a nice warm plate full of pork roast, mashed potatoes, mixed peas and carrots, and a buttered hunk of white bread. In Rockford, this passed for haute cuisine. She put the heaping plate in front of me. Because she was my mother, I let her brush my bangs out of my face and kiss me on the cheek. She smelled of lilacs.

"That I'm not investigating any more murders. No matter what Odin says."

"Odin?" This was the Swede asking. My mother knew perfectly well the identity of my Norse god.

I swallowed a bite of mashed potatoes. "My nickname for that cop who didn't believe me the last time." Digging back into the food, I hoped that my mother would catch the warning tone in my voice. I didn't feel like discussing Karlson at the family dinner table in front of the Swede. Whatever she told him across the pillows at night was her business, but if I wouldn't pass the time of day with the guy, I certainly wouldn't bare my soul to him now.

"Why? What did Odin say? Weren't you supposed to be eating dinner with his mother today?"

So much for my mother's keen sense of hearing and splendid grasp of propriety. I sighed. On another day, I might have had the presence of mind to sidestep her direct questions or brazen out the moment with a silent glare.

Unfortunately, I had too recently tangled with the god in question, so all I did at this time was to hold my napkin over my face and start to cry. It wasn't the blubbering sort of tears that my mother would remember from our shared childhood, but the quiet adult sobbing I always watched on television. The Swede reacted first.

"I'll get some whiskey," he said. In an instant, he was away from the table and rummaging around in the kitchen.

Coward, I thought. Exactly like a man to run off when things got a little messy.

My mother was at my side before the Swede left the room. She patted my back and crooned over me like she had when I was ten. Usually, this sort of attention pleased me immensely, but today I felt slightly annoyed.

"Drink this."

A tumbler materialized before my streaming eyes, and the Swede seemed to want me to hold it. I didn't know why he couldn't simply set the thing down on the table, but I reached for it anyway. The glass was warm and smelled good, like cinnamon and lemons and spices I couldn't name. The stuff inside tasted good.

"But Olaf . . . "

My mother sounded upset. The Swede called her over and whispered to her in the corner of the room. I couldn't hear what they said, and I didn't care. All I wanted to do was sip the warm, sweet liquid in the glass.

When the tumbler was empty, a long, long time later, my mother suggested that I might want to stretch out on their couch in the living room. I got comfortable with a pillow and my mother's favorite quilt, and Olaf uncharacteristically asked me some questions.

I couldn't remember what he asked from one question to the next or what I answered because I began to feel sleepy. It felt good to be warm at last and safe with my mother by my side.

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