Chapter Fifty-three

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I made it as far as unlocking the driver's side door when my mother got home. She pulled her car halfway up the driveway and rolled down the passenger side window.

"Going somewhere?" she asked.

I glanced down at my shoelaces. "Olaf is cooking," I said. "I thought maybe I'd go down to the Palace and chat with Mickey."

"Weren't taking any chances, were you?" my mother said. Her eyes sparkled when she smiled. I'd never noticed that before. She seldom smiled when I was a child.

"Can he cook?" I said.

"What are we having?" She put the car in park.

I rolled my eyes. "Swedish meatballs."

Mom's smile got brighter. "Off you go," she said. "More for me."

I didn't have to hear that twice. I got into the house right behind her. The whole place smelled of baking spices like nutmeg and cinnamon.

When I walked into the dining room, I found the candles lit and the table set with the good china again. My mother was seated on the end already, so I pulled in beside her. Olaf came in from the kitchen with steaming plates of egg noodles, creamy sauce, and meatballs for everyone.

But before I could dig in, Olaf had to pray. This was a new one.

"Thank you, God, for sparing Paulette from the fire," he said, "and bringing her home to us."

"Amen," said my mother.

I wanted to dig into the quickly cooling food in front of me, but my throat felt tight and I couldn't swallow. "Amen," I said at last.

At once my throat worked fine, and the food tasted good. Damn, the Swede could cook after all.

"Wait until you taste his Chicken Marsala," my mother whispered. "That's why I married him."

I kept eating but unbidden thoughts—like my mother and the Swede in a tender embrace over his cooking—were hardly appetizing.

After dinner I called Karlson. I had the home phone in my mother's bedroom for privacy. Karlson was still at work. "'You know you want to,'" I said as soon as he answered.

He said, "Most people feel the need to identify themselves on the telephone, Paulette."

I chuckled. "I'm special."

He chuckled back. "After today, I'd have to agree with you. Any idea who was behind the glass during your interview?"

I stretched out on my mother's bed and made myself comfortable on the cushy pillows. "George Clooney and Stephen Fry," I offered. "Be still my foolish heart."

"Deputy Commissioner," he said. "Big dog."

"And that's good?"

"Good for you. Bad for Schmanski. They left together, and the big dog did some chewing."

"All because of little ol' me?" I said. I smiled because usually I'm the one getting chewed on.

"Yes, Ma'am," he said. "All the time I was afraid you'd call the guy an asshole."

"I didn't?" I rolled over to my mother's side of the bed and bent the pillow in half under my head.

Karlson laughed out loud. "Yes, Paulette, I guess you did."

"So what do we do next to find the Princess's killer?"

"One of us stays home next to the telephone," he said.

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