Chapter Forty-five

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Jimmy finally let me drive home after I promised that I'd look in every direction before I climbed the stairs to my apartment. Arguing with me almost made him late for the movie. In the end, I convinced him that I had taken care of myself perfectly well for the 27 years before he came along, and I could manage to drive home and get into bed without his aid.

The deal-maker had been his foot-long, red Maglite flashlight. I agreed to take it with me to kosh criminals if he would back off and let me be a grown-up. While it was nice having someone worry about me, it could also be damned annoying.

As expected, I arrived home without incident. Despite slapping the Maglite up and down on my palm once or twice, no one came out of the shadows to challenge me. I almost wanted to kosh somebody on the head to show Jimmy that I could.

Inside my silent apartment, I changed into the sweats that passed for my jammies and grabbed the remote control. Hello HGTV.

I stretched out on the ratty blue couch opposite the TV and looked up the channel number on the back of my cable remote. When I keyed in the channel, I was catapulted into a world of color and form. A couple redecorated their family room on a budget, and the male narrator, a friendly-looking guy in a plaid shirt, made a toy chest out of a spare table. When it was finished, the toy chest would double as extra seating in the room.

Meanwhile, the female narrator chose paint and fabric colors to complement the carpet. A half hour later, the family room looked fabulous, and the narrators had spent only $500, most of which was for lumber.

I turned to look at my own living space with new eyes. The stark white walls didn't stare down at me with contempt tonight. My old blue sofa didn't remind me of the cast-offs from somebody's rummage sale. Even my few spindly sticks of furniture didn't seem as scratched as usual. The bookshelf across the room could use a coat of white paint, I decided. I could also paint the two rickety end tables on either side of the couch.

The sea of pillows washing across my carpeted floor appeared deep and mysterious, like a vari-colored lake with the low, brown carpeting acting as the sand on the shore. Besides the couch, the pillows were the only seats in the room.

When I glanced at the glass-topped, wooden spool that acted as my coffee table, I had an inspiration. Maybe I could have another piece of glass cut and put pictures between the two panes of glass on the spool. Then my coffee table would be practical as well as artistic. And cheap—that went without saying. Hmmm. What pictures should I put there?

They were running commercials for hardware stores on HGTV, so I got up and headed for the bookcase to grab my photo cache. All the very best pictures of me were taken from ages 2 to 11, and I keep them in my baby book along with the lone picture of my father.

My baby book nestles between my Riverside Shakespeare and my Riverside Chaucer. Resting comfortably between the Bard and the Father of English Literature seemed the perfect place of honor for the treasures of any English teacher.

But the baby book wasn't where it belonged. I checked the other four shelves to see if I'd misplaced it, but it wasn't there either. I started to panic. I had my cell phone in my hand and was deciding who I should call when I remembered. My mother had it.

She'd gotten the genealogy bug and was photocopying the family tree in the middle of the baby book. It seems my father filled out his side completely, and my mother wanted to research my ancestors. I didn't mind if she wanted to poke in old books, gaze at microfiche census records, and visit far-flung websites, but she'd already had my precious book for two weeks. At dinner tomorrow, I would get my property back—copies or no copies.

The next decorating show was up, so I went back to my lounging position on the couch. Hours later, I woke up, still on the couch, with the television running. HGTV hadn't run out of decorating programs, but I was running out of energy to watch them.

I shut off the TV and took myself to bed. Halfway to the bedroom, I remembered what I'd been dreaming about on the couch. Shoes. Four-inch spike heels in rainbow hues stapled to every available surface in my apartment.

Jimmy and Claudie were right, and I had the beginnings of a plan to trap Simone. My first step was to check the databases at work to see if Simone was one of the Princess's clients. I figured that Karlson and company had already worked that angle, but it couldn't hurt to look. First thing, Monday morning.

And when I thought about it, the shoe motif was actually an interesting decorating idea for my stark white apartment.

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