Chapter Sixteen

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I dreamt about flying through the air like a superhero when somebody gently shook me awake. I opened my eyes expecting to see my mother bending over me. The room was mostly dark, yet I recognized that I stared at the Swede instead.

"We should go," he said.

I sat up. My mother stood behind the couch with her coat on. The Swede went into the hallway. I heard him rummaging around in their coat closet.

"Go where?" I said.

"We need to get you home," my mother said. She fingered the buttons on her coat although they were already fastened.

I shook my head a little to clear my thoughts. Why did anybody need to get me home when I had a car and knew how to drive? I swung my feet over the side of the couch and searched for my shoes. They were right where I left them—the laces only slightly frayed by Otto's canine attentions.

I wondered again if my mother had been as indulgent with me as she was with her second child, the four-legged beastie. As usual, the youngest kid got the longest rein.

Once my shoes were in place, I stood up, and the room seemed to spin. I put out a hand to steady myself on the back of the sofa

The Swede appeared in the doorway with my coat. He tried to hold it for me to get into, but I shook my head. Dizzy as I felt, I hadn't yet forgotten what happened with Odin today. "Not a chance," I said. "Not a bloody chance."

I took the garment from his outstretched arms and tried to get into it by myself. I only got one arm in. Every time I tried to find the other sleeve, I lost it somewhere behind me. At the third attempt, my mother stepped forward and held the errant sleeve for me. For some reason, even the simplest motor functions were beyond me. Maybe I was coming down with something.

I turned around to face my mother, but she stared at the Swede, who hadn't moved an inch since I snatched my coat away. My mother frowned, a first in my experience. If I hadn't known better, I would have said that she was mad at him.

"You know," I mumbled to myself. "I think maybe I'm going to throw up." Luckily, the bathroom was on the other side of my mother, so I made it okay and tossed up the pork roast with abandon. I hadn't barfed since the sixth grade when I accidentally swallowed a fly.

During my sojourn with the porcelain goddess, I blamed everything on Lieutenant Odin and his cheap red wine, but I quickly forgot all about retribution when I emerged from the bathroom.

My mother and the Swede were having words. I could tell because of the rosy splotches on my mother's cheeks, which only appeared when she was angry. The last time I'd been the cause of her blush when I'd shown her the bad-assed rose tattoo I'd gotten for my 18th birthday. If I'd been feeling better, I might have relished her anger at someone who was not me.

They stopped arguing once they realized I was listening. The Swede said, "We go now." After barfing, I didn't wonder anymore why they were driving me home.

As we marched out to the Renault, I handed the keys to my mother. I carefully parked under a street light, but it wasn't lit yet. The time was going on seven o'clock, and the sky was still bright.

The Swede pulled their Buick Regal out of the garage and onto the street in front of us. Beside him in the front seat sat Otto with his head lolling out the passenger window as if he belonged there. The sight didn't surprise me since this was stacking up to be an outing for the whole melded family.

It was a warm evening for April in the Midwest, so I rolled down the window on the passenger side—where I'd never sat before. The car was second-hand, so I'd settled for a nice, low price without any fancy electronic gadgets or even electric windows.

My mother drove in silence while I leaned my head back against the headrest and closed my eyes. I almost nodded off when the car stopped. I thought we must be home, but when I opened my eyes we were parked on some tree-lined street that I didn't recognize. I turned to my mother.

"Olaf will be back in a minute with the dog," she said. Then she shifted away from me and stared out the front window.

"What?" I may still have been a little fuzzy, but even I knew that my mother didn't need to wait for Olaf to walk the dog before she took me home. Besides, Olaf always walked the dog around their neighborhood. The dog was used to it.

When my mother didn't answer, I stared out the front window along with her. There, as expected, was Olaf with Otto on the leash. Olaf followed the dog, who meandered all over the sidewalk with his nose to the ground.

Then they turned the corner, and I leaned to my right to see where they were headed. All I could make out was the corner of a building, but that was enough.

"Goddamn!" I said. This caused my mother to turn to me at last. "What the hell is he doing?"

I grabbed for the door latch and nearly fell out of the car in my hurry to be up and after Olaf. I righted myself and, with my feet firmly meeting the pavement, I walked quickly down the street in pursuit of man and beast.

Around the corner, I caught sight of the dog's wagging tail behind the building where I worked. The brokerage firm. How Olaf knew where to go was beyond me, as was his reason for being there, but I was sure as hell going to find out.

I headed for the corner of the building as fast as my shaky legs would carry me. Before I reached him, Olaf wheeled around and walked straight toward me.

I opened my mouth to curse the man, but he put a finger to his lips and grabbed my arm. As he dragged me back to my car, he whispered into my ear, "Karlson's right. There's a small door to the basement level. Painted over, I expect."

"What the . . . ?"

That's all I got out before my mother grabbed my other arm. "You told Olaf everything, Dear," she said, "You drank . . . I mean after the toddy. You were crying, but you told him what Odin said."

And that's when I decided to rethink my attitude about Swedes bearing drinks. Mind you, I wasn't happy to have been so easily duped, but I had to admit that Olaf was right. Nobody paid any attention to a middle-aged white guy walking his dog. Otto could have sniffed all the way to the building's foundations on all four sides, and all anybody would have seen was a hound with an urge to pee.

And that kind of insight was maybe useful in my new role as amateur sleuth and investigator of the Princess' murder because I had lots of annoying questions to ask Jimmy Dolan in the morning.

God help me, but Paulette Goddard was back on the case.

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