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Authors: J.A. Jance

A Last Goodbye

BOOK: A Last Goodbye
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li Reynolds leaned her head back against the pillow in the soaking tub and closed her eyes. With the help of the pummeling water jets, she let the rush of the past few days recede into the background. She and B. had made it. They were finally in Las Vegas. The rest of the wedding party was there, too. Back in November, when she and B. Simpson had first settled on a Christmas Eve wedding at the Four Seasons, it seemed entirely doable—a piece of cake. After all, how hard could it be?

Because Ali and B. had chosen to be married in a hotel, much of the planning was done by simply cruising through the wedding planning pages on the Four Seasons website. Arranging the time, date, flowers, type of ceremony—including their preferred verbiage in the vows—was just a matter of making a few mouse clicks on her computer. Ditto for the menus. One was for what they were calling the rehearsal dinner despite the fact that there would be no rehearsal until the morning of the wedding. She also used the website to choose separate menus for both the reception and the post-ceremony supper. Ali stepped away from her computer, thinking that she had most everything handled. Unfortunately, she had failed to take her mother's reaction into consideration.

Preparations for Ali's previous weddings had been well beyond Edie Larson's geographic reach—­Chicago for the first ceremony and Los Angeles for the second. Caught up in running the family business, the Sugarloaf Café in Sedona, Arizona, 363 days a year, all Ali's parents had been able to do on the two previous occasions was arrive in time for the rehearsal dinners and depart immediately after the nuptials.

This time around, Ali wasn't so lucky. Her parents, Bob and Edie Larson, were both retired now, having sold the restaurant. Bob had found plenty to do in retirement, but Edie, left with too much time on her hands, had hit the wedding planner ground at a dead run, a ­reaction for which Ali herself had been totally unprepared.

In the past, Ali had found the term “bridezilla” mildly amusing, but when it came to dealing with an Edie who had suddenly morphed into what could only be called the bride's “momzilla”? That wasn't amusing in the least. To Ali's surprise, Edie had whipped out her long-unused Singer sewing machine and set about stitching up a storm. In keeping with the season, ­Edie's mother-of-the-bride dress was a deep-green velvet and probably the most sophisticated attire Ali had ever seen in her mother's wardrobe.

With her own dress safely in hand, Edie had gone on to tackle outfits for the twins, Ali's grandchildren, Colleen and Colin, who would serve as flower girl and ring bearer respectively. Colleen's dress was a ruby-red taffeta, and Colin's tux, also homemade, came complete with a matching ruby-red taffeta cummerbund. Once that was finished, Edie took it upon herself to sew identical cummerbunds for all the men in the wedding party.

Ali's father, Bob, was not an official member because Ali's son, Chris, would do the honor of walking her down the aisle. Even so, Edie had gone so far as to bully her husband into actually buying a tux as opposed to renting one so Bob would have one to wear to formal dinner nights on their next cruise. Edie had been in despair about Ali's ever finding a suitable wedding dress, and her sense of dread deepened when her daughter abruptly removed herself from the wedding planning equation. For the better part of two weeks in early December, Ali avoided all the frenetic pre-wedding activity by, as Edie put it, “larking off” to England.

That's what Ali and B. had both expected her trip to Bournemouth would be—a lark. She went along for the ride when her longtime majordomo, Leland Brooks, returned home to the British Isles after living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. for the better part of sixty years. The trip was actually a thank-you from B. and Ali for Leland's years of loyal service, including his having saved Ali's life a month earlier in a nighttime desert confrontation with a kidnapper.

Ali had expected that her responsibilities would entail providing backup in case any of Leland's long-lost relatives decided to go off the rails. She was also there as the designated driver, since most car rental agencies didn't allow octogenarians to rent vehicles.

In a role-reversal variation on
Driving Miss Daisy,
Ali had taken the wheel of their “hired” Range Rover and driven Leland through the snowy English countryside from London to Bournemouth, Leland's hometown, on the south coast of England. Together they even took a sentimental side trip to one of Leland's favorite childhood haunts: Stonehenge.

In a small fashion boutique in Bournemouth, Leland had helped Ali find the perfect dress for her third and, as she put it, hopefully last wedding. Even now, her lovely lace-adorned ivory silk knee-length sheath was hanging in its original clear plastic wrap in the closet here at the Four Seasons. Needless to say, Edie was greatly relieved to know that the wedding dress issue had at last been handled even if she hadn't been allowed to make it or choose it.

Still, the UK trip hadn't been all been fun and games. As expected, some of Leland's relatives proved to be problematic—especially his gossipy and troublesome cousins, Maisie and Daisy, who were more than happy to put their unwelcome noses where they didn't belong, chirping away with a chorus of derogatory comments as they did so.

In the course of the visit, Ali and Leland had determined that his father's death decades earlier, long considered a suicide, was in fact a murder. Joining forces with both a local homicide inspector and also with the woman in charge of a company specializing in using DNA to identify war crime victims, Ali managed to solve that unsolved crime. Her solution wouldn't have stood up in a court of law, but it removed the troubling weight of responsibility for his father's death from Leland's shoulders. In the process Leland was also reunited with a dear friend from his youth, Thomas Blackfield.

Ali and Leland's trip back from the UK had included an emergency detour to central Texas, where Ali and B. had come to the rescue of a brilliant young computer hacker named Lance Tucker, whose innovative skills had made him the target of any number of unsavory types, including more than one Mexican drug cartel. Now safely enrolled in college classes, Lance was one of the newest additions to B. Simpson's cyber security company, High Noon Enterprises.

• • •

Rousing herself, Ali noticed that what had started out as very hot water in her soaking tub had cooled too much. Because she knew this one small bit of respite was all she'd have before diving into three days brimming with pre- and post-wedding festivities, Ali drained out some of the tepid water and added enough hot water to make it comfortable again.

Getting the wedding party to Vegas had been a lot like herding cats. Leland, B.'s best man, and his out-of-country guest, Thomas, drove up in Leland's brand-new Ford F-150 pickup truck, hauling his equally new Airstream Land Yacht. The Airstream was a welcome replacement to the much older fifth-wheel trailer that had long served as Leland's residence. They were staying at an RV resort a few miles away from the hotel. Once the wedding was over and before returning to Sedona, they planned on doing some sightseeing, including, weather permitting, a leisurely stop at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, which Thomas was keen on seeing.

Ali's matron of honor and best friend happened to be a nun—a Sister of Providence. Sister Anselm had insisted on driving up alone in her Mini Cooper in case she received a call out in her role as a roving patient advocate. She had nixed the idea of staying with the wedding party at the Four Seasons and had instead checked into a guest room at the Convent of Saint Mary, a mile or so off the Strip. Everyone else—Ali's son and daughter-in-law, Chris and Athena; their two kids, Colleen and Colin; B. and Ali; and B.'s second in command at High Noon, Stuart Ramey, had flown up on board a chartered Citation X that had picked them up at the tiny airport on a mesa in the midst of Sedona.

They had arrived earlier in the afternoon, flying to an FBO, a fixed-base operator, at McCarran International Airport. The FBO's hangar was clearly visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows in Ali and B.'s penthouse suite. After checking into the hotel and seeing their rooms, not all of the guests were happy campers. Colin and Colleen were devastated when they discovered that their room, although just down the hall from Grandma Ali's spacious suite, had no fireplace.

“How's Santa Claus ever going to find us?” Colleen had wailed tearfully. B. had put a stop to her temper tantrum by coming up with the brilliant idea that the twins could hang their Christmas stockings from the mantel in his and Grandma's room on Christmas Eve and then come there the next morning to open them.

“So much for having a peaceful honeymoon,” Ali told him wryly once he had negotiated the peace treaty and the mollified kids had gone back down the hall.

“Don't try to fool me,” B. told her with a grin. “You wouldn't have it any other way.”

The kids' problem had been easily solved. The same could not be said of Stuart Ramey's. Ali had long suspected Stu of suffering from a high-functioning form of Asperger's syndrome. Totally at ease in front of a computer terminal, he lived as a virtual hermit in the company's headquarters building in Cottonwood, dining on take-out food that was delivered to his office, which looked more like a grubby room in a college dorm than it did a place of business.

Eventually Ali had learned that Stuart's solitary lifestyle and the reason he seldom left the grounds were both due to the fact that he had neither a driver's license nor a vehicle. His fully guided trip to Paris, scheduled to happen in mid-January, would be the man's second-ever airplane flight. His first had been today on the Citation X, riding from Sedona to Vegas. Stuart had spent most of the flight sitting tight-lipped and silent, both hands gripping the armrests while his face turned several interesting shades of green.

Given all that, when B. had told Ali that Stuart would be attending the wedding, she was nothing short of astonished. She was even more so when B. mentioned that Stu had offered to play the organ for the ceremony as well as sing a self-accompanied solo version of the “Wedding Song.” Stuart Ramey could play the organ and sing? Who knew?

But that wasn't all Ali hadn't known about the man. In addition to his fear of flying, Stuart was absolutely petrified of elevators. The latter deficit was apparent at the Four Seasons check-in desk when Stuart, still shaken from the plane ride, was handed the key to his room on the thirty-eighth floor. Glancing at the room number on the envelope, Stuart balked and said if he had to get there by elevator, he wasn't going.

The Four Seasons is located on the upper floors of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. A very patient hotel desk clerk had spent the next twenty minutes working out a peace agreement with her counterpart at the overbooked Mandalay Bay. Working together, they ultimately made it possible for Stuart to stay in a part of the building that was accessible by a series of escalators and only two flights of interior stairs.

And then there was Ali's father. Bob and Edie Larson weren't especially religious, but they had always taken the commandment “Love thy neighbor” very seriously. For as long as Ali could remember, the Sugarloaf Café had been closed for regular business on both Thanksgiving Day and Christmas. Rather than having paying customers in, they opened their doors to the needy, serving up a full-course Thanksgiving feast to any and all comers. The people who could afford to make a donation did, and the ones who couldn't didn't. And Edie had made sure that Sugarloaf tradition continued even under its new ownership.

BOOK: A Last Goodbye
7.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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