"No, I found the place without a problem," he lied and followed her up the stairs and into a brightly lit townhouse. Hed seen places like this, but not in Pottsville. They were the kind you found on the covers of home remodeling magazines and in sitcoms set in wealthy, big-city neighborhoods. Everything, he was sure, was part of a plan created by some high-priced interior designer. He was just as sure that nothing Edna Bowers owned came from K-Mart. Everything matched, everything fit, everything except the large painting on the wall that just did not go with the couch.
The misfit painting was flanked by bookcases, fifteen feet tall, which wrapped around the room. Light poured in from the skylight and the glass doors leading to the patio. He had never been in a home like this before. No television, though. And that probably meant no cable. Rough.
"I cant thank you enough for calling me and agreeing to come up. It had been years since I thought about Russ and, from the way he talked, I assumed that no one in the family would want to hear from me."
She pointed to a leather chair as she took a seat on the couch across from him. "Did your parents tell you much about Russ?" she asked.
"No, Im afraid not, Mrs. Bowers, and I cant say that I know a lot about him either. You were right, my family wasnt too fond of my uncle."
"First, theres no Mr. Bowers," she said, "I just put that on the door to scare off trouble. And please, call me Edna."
"Well, uh, Edna," he said, "I didnt know himmy uncle that isbut I guess you did. And youre the only one talking."
She laughed as she stood up. "Thats funny," she said, "there was a time when everybody talked about Russ. I was just about to have some wine, care for some?" He said yes, although he would have preferred a beer. Nobody he hung out with drank wine except at Christmas. That gay guy in the brewerys accounting department drank wine. At least he looked like hed drink wine, and he looked gay. Heres the first thing I wont tell the guys back home, he thought.
While she got the drinks he took a look around the room. The books were a mix of biographies and fiction, but nothing like the stuff the women at the brewery read. No thick romances with busty women with piles of hair hanging on half-dressed men with even more hair. Some of the books were in what he assumed was French and he wondered if she could actually read them or if she had them only for looks, like his copy of The Stand. There were some seashells, some small wooden carvings, and a lot of old black and white photos in silver frames. He picked up one, a group shot of men and women sitting in a park, smoking cigars and holding up bottles of beer. In the far background, to the left, he could make out the Eiffel Tower. His eyes locked onto a stunning, dark-haired woman in the front row. She sat on the ground, her head tilted a bit to the left, a half drunk look in her eyes, a look Doug found sexy. She wore baggy khakis and a mans shirt, but he could still tell she had an athletes bodyfirm and well maintained. He looked at her face again. She was amazing, like an actress or a model, but at the same time she looked so approachable. She was holding a cigar, too. Then it hit him. Same-shaped face, same eyes, younger than now, of course, but it was her. Edna Bowers, the old woman getting the drinks. He put the photo down.
"I hope you like cabernet," Edna said as she returned to the room, handing Doug both the bottle and an empty glass. "I wasnt sure so I didnt pour. Some people find my taste in wines a bit overpowering, especially this early in the day."
Doug looked at the label like he knew what he was looking for. "Dont worry," she said, "its not a Canadian wine. I might be a poor host, but Im not a cruel one."
From Relative Danger by Charles Benoit (Chapters 1 & 2, pages 1-16). Copyright Charles Benoit 2004. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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