Beneath The Brambles, Chapter 26
Harley recognized the voice instantly. She turned, taking in the group at the table in one glance and that was all it took to bring back that feeling from this afternoon. Just that once glance at the author and she was washed with the remembrance of that kiss.
It took a shake of her head and a firm resolve to keep her feelings from showing on her face before she trusted herself to walk to the table.She made a point to keep her eyes on her cousin and her lover and pasted on an amused grin as she approached.
"Well, well, well if it isnt The Brain and The Brat." Harley leaned over just enough to hug Savatheda and then her cousin.
"Is that anyway to talk to your family, Scamp?" Her father reached over and just as Harley bent to hug her cousin, swatted her with authority on the butt.
"Hey!" She straightened up, rubbed her bottom and frowned "Its not my fault. I callem as I seeem." Then she smiled and leaned forward to embrace her father. "Hi ya, Daddy. Im glad your home."
"Me too, Sweetheart. I understand theres been some goings on around here." His eyes caught and held her own and just as she was trying hard to stifle a blush, he continued.
"So, who did it? You have any ideas who the bad guys are and why?"
Grateful for the reprieve from what she assumed would be an inquiry on her feelings for Emily, Harley shifted into her Sheriff persona and told the table of the latest event.
"So, on the face of it there doesnt seem to be any connection between what happened to Polly and the attack on Emily at Stephanies house, my gut tells me there is. Speaking of which, I need to get to the office. Im still trying to reach Livie to see if she knows anything that was going on with her mother."
"Hold on, hold on here. What did you mean attack on Emily at Stephanies house?" The publisher was obviously upset and kept switching her aggravated expression from Harley to Emily and then to her aunt.
Glancing once in Emilys direction, she saw the look of chagrin on the writers face and decided to let the smaller women explain. An interior grin began when Harley realized what the blonde was in for. She knew no one in the family had remembered to call Stephanie and tell her of the incident with the knife. Shed been on the receiving end of Stephs temper before and wanted nothing to do with it.
"Ill let you all fill Steph in. Duty calls. See ya." With another quick smooch to each of her parents cheeks, Harley was out the door.
As soon as the door closed everyone at the table spoke at once.
"Oh, Josh, poor Polly. I need to call Olivia and let her know well be taking care of things here."
"This thing is getting way too dangerous, I wonder if the Mongoose would allow me to get some help in here from Gunny Johnson and the state police."
"Whos Polly Pechter and why would she have anything to do with this?" the writer murmured.
"What did she mean attack on Emily at Stephanies house?" Savatheda asked.
What did she mean attack on Emily at my house?" As was her habit, Stephanies voice rose in volume until she shouted the last few words.
That quieted everyone and Emily scooted back into her chair as far as she could while leaning into Twyla.
Recognizing that her outburst put the whole dining room into a state of dead quiet, and seeing all the eyes at her table huge and round, Stephanie cleared her throat uncomfortably. She lowered her head as she blushed a most becoming shade of deep rose.
Savatheda wrapped her arm around her mate as Josh reached over to take her hand.
"Now, now, Honey, its not nearly as bad as it sounds. Lets just order some dinner and a cocktail and well tell you all about it."
Stephanie nodded and then glanced up to see Emily fidgeting and pushing her silverware around while looking everywhere but at the publisher.
Harley was just finishing up her chicken and dumplings as, once again, Cole announced there was still no answer at Olivias.
"Its too late tonight to reach Ches and ask what Polly needed him for. Hes always gone by five on Fridays to go see his kids."
Cole knew that too. He always went to Santa Barbara to see his boys on the weekend. Since he and Debbie divorced those boys were all he lived for. Good thing they made the split so friendly that his access to his sons was something she never denied him.
"I want to make some more calls but everythings closed till Monday." Harley sat back and sipped her coffee trying hard to connect the dots between all her evidence and her suspicions.
When shed arrived back at the station with dinner in hand, she told Cole all that happened in L.A. and let him know she suspected that somehow this attack on Polly was a part of the whole scenario.
She also told him how she had dropped the bomb on Stephanie about what almost happened to one of her most popular authors and then left her folks and the writer to fill her in. They both laughed aloud at that.
Now she just had to make this whole jumble of supposition and evidence tell her what the hell was going on. Even more importantly, why.
Thats the bug in the ointment. Why? Valerie is a bitch but she is a smart bitch. A conniver. A manipulator. What was she getting out of all this? And Darla. There isnt a shred of evidence to suggest that she had anything to do with this but everything in my gut tells me shes involved. The money trail is all I have to even connect her with this. Damn. What am I missing?
As her thoughts trailed off, that question flew around and around in her head.
"Thanks for keeping me informed, Dr. Epstein. Ill be out to see her tomorrow. If anything further develops Id ask that you let me know as soon as possible. Good night."
Hobie hung up the phone and leaned forward on his desk. He briskly scrubbed his hands over his face then looked up as he heard Kath enter his office.
"You about ready for dinner now? If not, I can keep it warm longer."
He offered a small smile to his cherub of a wife. He pushed his chair back and reached for her hand as he met her at the door. "Nah, go ahead and put it on the table. I just have to give Harley a call and tell her Pollys condition, then Ill be in to eat." He gave her a small kiss and watched as she left the room.
Returning to the desk he lifted the phone and punched in memory 6 and waited only one ring for it to be answered.
"Hey, Sis. What are you doing answering the phone? I thought you had that no account deputy to keep you from doing the scut work."
She laughed. "Im doing my office proud. Im delegating authority."
"What does that mean? I mean I know what it should mean, but with you anything is possible." He couldnt keep the smile out his voice either. He never could when he spoke to his sister.
"I sent him out for donuts. Gotta keep the traditions and standing of the position in mind."
He laughed with her, but he knew his sister. If she was planning to eat donuts at this time of night, she was planning to stay up late. Hed seen her do the same thing any number of times when she needed to study for school or had a problem she couldnt solve the minute it was brought to her attention. A bulldog. Shes just like a bulldog. He shook his head and smiled, then felt at least he could help her with a bit of her problem.
"Well, I just thought you should know that Polly is out of surgery and doing as well as can be expected for a woman in her late seventies with a skull fracture and a concussion whos just undergone major surgery.
They had to open her up to remove a couple of small bone chips and put in a shunt to try to reduce the swelling in her cranium, but she did appear to wake up once in recovery."
The situation was really more complicated than that but Hobie knew that Harley hated it when he spoke to her in Doctor-speak. Almost as much as when she spoke to him in Lawyer-speak. They had agreed years ago to keep it in English with each other.
"She is going to make it, isnt she Hobie?"
"Anything is possible with a woman her age. She has a severe head injury and just undergoing the surgery is a strain on the body. That she woke up once is a good thing, but right now its just a waiting game. Everything that can be done for her is being done. Ill let you know more as soon as I get back from seeing her tomorrow. Will that do?"
Harley sighed. Of course she had no choice but to wait and hope that Polly would make it through this and be able to answer some questions for her. Her biggest problem right now was not knowing how long she had to get to the bottom of this. Her gut was telling her this was far from being over.
"Itll have to be, wont it? Thanks, Hobie. Now go have dinner." She smiled.
"What makes you think I havent?"
"Because I know you too well. Now, get off this phone and go eat with your wife and pretend you lead a semi-normal life for a change. Even if you dont, Kath deserves that." She knew she had him there.
"True. See ya, Sis."
As Harley hung up she heard the voice in her head asking her again. What am I missing? Then she heard herself answer, Emily. It didnt solve her problem and it wasnt the answer she was looking for, but it was an answer nonetheless and she couldnt deny the truth of it.
By the time the wonderful Grasshopper pie was consumed and they were starting their second cups of Twylas fabulous coffee, the table was once again a calm and peaceful place. Stephanie had been placated over dinner by both the Ravensdowns and Emilys assurances that she was fine and that the incident at her house was probably a one shot occurrence.
Now they were just chatting and like the fine writer and observer of people that she was, Emily finally got over her self-chastisement and began to charmingly grill both Stephanie and Savatheda about the woman that was the publishers partner and their relationship.
So far, without seeming to pry, she had learned that they met about four and half years ago when a mutual friend convinced them to meet on a blind date. Savatheda, or Savvy as Steph and the family called her was a professor of advanced mathematics at UCLA.
Savvys passion for her field seemed to be the only thing the two didnt share a mutual interest in and, perpetuating the widely known joke, they did indeed bring a U-Haul to the second date. Of course, the first date lasted for two weeks.
Savvy was serendipitously on sabbatical and Steph just called and let her people handle anything that came up at the office and took care of the rest from her laptop at home with Savvy. Quite uncharacteristically for the publisher, she swore that she lived that old cliché when she first saw the 64" woman across the crowded room of the club they were to meet in.
"Everything seemed to get dim and cloudy on the periphery of my vision and all I could see was her. The noise of the crowd and the pounding of the music all seemed to fade away." She sighed and took the hand resting on her shoulder linking her fingers with her lovers as she gazed at her. "It wasnt until three days later that Savvy told me she felt the same thing."
The light from the candle on the table was kind and Emily knew she had a bit too much to drink but she couldnt help misting up as she saw the look of what could only be described as adoration in the eyes and on the soft brown face of the beautiful woman who looked at her friend. It was everywhere. As she felt the first tear drop unexpectedly from her eye, she realized how moved she was by this very intimate and personal moment she was watching. She realized something new about herself in that moment.
A year ago I would have laughed at this or made some kind of gagging noise. I have never believed in a love that deep. To me, its always just been a way of twisting words to keep my readers. Just a sappy way to manipulate the housewives in Iowa, but it never really happened, not in real life. Not until I came here and saw it for myself. In Josh and Twyla. In Connie and Toni. Maybe even in Danita and Paris, and most definitely here between Stephanie and Savvy. Then she remembered again that that wasnt really true. I did believe in love like that once. Thanks, Mom and Dad, thanks again.
The waitress coming to ask if they needed anything else broke the spell. Everyone told her politely, no, and Emily continued in her quest.
"I hope I dont offend, but that is New Orleans I detect in that lovely accent isnt it?"
"Mais, oui. May I ask how you determined both the city and state? Most people never get that bold, preferring to hedge their questions with something like What part of the south are you from? but you just jumped right in the bayou." Savvy laughed and so did the rest of the table.
"Its a gift. I dont do languages very well, I mean, as anyone raised in California I speak a fair amount of Spanish and dabble a bit in French, but I can account for both of those because of several years of Latin in high school. Ive always been first rate with dialects." She smiled and tilted her head a bit. "I can hear the inflections and just seem to know what part of the country, or the world, someone hails from." She laughed then. "Its a gift, but its a small one, I mean its nothing the CIA would recruit me for, but it did get this short white blonde girl the lead in West Side Story at El Camino high school."
Savvy and Stephanie laughed, Twyla applauded and Josh toasted her with his Brandy snifter.
"Well, then Miss. Shasta, " Savvy began.
"Please, if you would, Emily."
Stephanie looked at her oddly and remarkably did a fair imitation of that same eyebrow lift thing that seems to run in the family but said nothing.
Savvy began again, "If you prefer, Emily. Youre right I was born and raised in New Orleans, though by now you would expect that I might have lost the accent. I havent been back home in going on a dozen years, but for a week or so every three years."
Stephanie saw the wheels turning and decided to give out part of the story instead of making her work for it more than she had already. It had been especially amusing to watch her voracious little author hunt for and find ways of getting her lover and herself to fill in the blanks for her, but the evening was waning and she was getting hot to have Savvys undivided attention.
"Let me sum up for you a bit of background, and then, if you still need to know, and I know you will, you can come over to the house tomorrow for brunch and well talk some more."
Emily had the good grace to blush a bit and Twyla noticed enough to pat her arm and shoot her niece a chastising look. Stephanie just smiled.
"You and that blue eyed legal eagle have something in common with my Savvy, in that she too, is a prodigy. Shes been a whiz at math since she could barley walk and ended up graduating two years early and going to first, MIT and then Stanford on full scholarships. She chose to stay here in California and accept the position at UCLA as her family was having a little fit about her newest bit of self-discovery when she let them know she was sexually other oriented. Now she only goes back home occasionally to see her paternal grandmother and eat decent food she says, present company excepted, Auntie." She grinned and nodded at her beloved Aunt and Savvy smiled and nodded, too. Twyla just brushed her off with a hand swipe and finished her coffee.
"Now," she let out a breath, "if I may be so rude as to suggest it, perhaps we can call it an evening. Im a little tired."
She didnt fool anyone at the table with that last remark, but no one was crass enough to mention it.
"I think thats a good idea," Josh said. "Well be talking again on Sunday anyway." He got to his feet helping both Twyla and Emily from their chairs and they all exchanged appropriate goodbyes with Emily promising to come back to Stephanies at one-ish for brunch.
Emily was sitting in the back of the car and the light from a streetlamp caught Josh as he turned to speak to his wife. It was that profile and the blue of his eye that reminded Emily of Harley. She was feeling pretty good about the fact that shed gone most of the evening without thinking of the woman. Well, without thinking of her constantly. But the evening was over and that flash of familiar planes and angles and blue allowed her the luxury of falling into her remembrances so she just let go and enjoyed it.
Harley wasnt fairing nearly so well. With Cole home and no one to talk to, shed spent her evening eating donuts, drinking coffee and trying to make sense of this case.
She started doing what she always did and laid out the evidence in her mind trying to fit the suspects in and figuring a motive. She couldnt seem to complete the pattern. Not just because she didnt have enough data, but also because every now and then Emilys image would pop into her head and the second it did, it was followed up by a visceral physical sensation immediately followed by the familiar feeling of fear and worry.
She eventually tried to write it all down, figuring if she could see it more clearly the pieces would start making sense. It hadnt worked. Emily was still popping up to annoy her.
Eventually she started compiling lists. Lists of possible motives. Lists of people and places to call for information. Lists of things to do, until she realized that all she could think about now was the mental list she was making about why it was such a bad idea to let her feelings for the writer go any farther.
Slamming her hand on her desk, she got up, checked the doors and windows, turned off the lights grabbed a blanket and laid down on the couch.
If I just go to sleep maybe tomorrow everything wont seem so overwhelming.
She closed her eyes and she was back again, but this time more vibrant without any outer distractions to filter the image. Before she knew what she was doing, shed unbuttoned her jeans, slipped her hand in between her thighs and let the memory of that kiss bring her to a very intense, very quick release.
Jesus! Im so fucked.