Authors: D.J. Palmer
Nina got the phone message from Maggie, followed up by another call that she was able to answer. Her daughter was in hysterics, at points incoherent. The reason for her calls: her lab report was inexplicably missing and surprise, surprise, she was blaming Simon for the disappearance.
Maggie couldn't say why Simon might have taken it, only that she was sure he did. Eventually she calmed down because there wasn't anything Nina could do to fix the situation. She was headed to Carson after work, not home, though Nina had told Maggie that she needed to work late again.
“Glad your job is going so well,” said Maggie after Nina made her evening plans known. It was a perfect blow to unleash a fresh torrent of guilt.
Nina had had that heart-to-heart with her daughter the previous night as Simon had suggested, but Maggie denied being upset about the job. It seemed her daughter was equally skilled as Simon at delivering mixed messages in that regard. Then again, it made sense to Nina that Maggie would try to hide her true feelings. Nina made it quite clear she loved working again.
Thinking of Maggie's sacrifice brought on a nearly irresistible pull to get home, but there was another pull with even more force taking
her in the opposite direction. Nina had to know. She simply had to confront Teresa.
Nina called Simon after speaking with Maggie, to warn him of the coming storm.
“It's always something with her,” Simon said, sounding more exasperated than normal. “Thanks for the heads-up. I'll prep myself. I'm not going to say I told you so, butâ”
He didn't bother finishing his sentence, and Nina didn't need to hear it. The timing for her next bit of news couldn't have been worse.
“So hon, Rona's put a new case on my desk, and I have to jump on it right away, bit of a family emergency. I'll be home a little late. Do you mind eating without me?”
She pictured Simon alone with Maggie sulking at the kitchen table and guilt ate away at her anew. A protracted silence ensued.
“I'd say we've got a bit of an emergency on our hands, too,” Simon said. “What time?”
His voice carried an edge, notable only because he so seldom spoke with one.
“Maybe after seven,” Nina said.
A worry struck her:
What if he drives by The Davis Family Center and sees no lights on? But why would he?
she asked herself.
Because lying takes effortÂ â¦ because eventually everyone gets tripped up in their deceitsÂ â¦ because secrets don't stay hidden forever.
Nina silenced the chorus in her head.
“Another late night,” Simon said, still no joy in his voice. He wasn't asking for details about the new, albeit fictional case. No, he sounded downright angry. Nina contemplated abandoning her plan, but she was committed now.
“I know it's been hard,” she said, putting extra sweetness in her voice. “I promise it'll get better once I get my rhythm going. It's an adjustment period, that's all.”
“I understand, darling,” Simon said, his tone brightening. “Not to worry.”
“Thanks, babe.” Nina breathed easier.
“You know,” said Simon, “since you've been so focused on your job, and it's been a lot more all-consuming than either of us thought, and with all the issues at home, perhaps you shouldn't go on that girls' weekend with Ginny and Susanna?”
“What? No!” Nina sounded indignant. “We've had it planned for ages.”
“Well, that's before you took a new job that's taking up all your time, and before I made things even worse with Maggie. And now this lab report disaster? I hate to say that I could use a buffer around here, Nina, but you're putting a lot on me.”
“Connor can look after Maggie when I'm away; you don't have to do anything.”
Nina's voice carried a gasp of desperation; she'd been looking forward to this weekend for ages, but her earlier misgivings, the same ones Simon expressed, had returned with a vengeance.
“That's really not my point, is it?” Simon rebutted. “Things are falling apart here. You're working all the time and then you're going off with your girlfriends. That leaves me to deal with everything and it doesn't exactly seem fair. That's what I'm talking about.”
Nina swallowed hard, because a part of her understood his logic and agreed. She also wanted to avoid a fight at any cost, because right now her focus was on matters more pressing.
“I get it, I really do,” she said. “I'll talk to Ginny and Susanna, maybe we can reschedule.”
Maybe they can get even more upset with me,
“Thanks for being so understanding, honey. I'll have dinner waiting for you when you get home.”
“Sounds good,” Nina said. “Thanks, babe. Love you. Bye.”
On the drive to Carson, Nina vacillated between two thoughts: what she would say to Teresa, and how on earth to break the news to Ginny and Susanna that her participation in the long-planned girls' weekend was now in doubt.
Both those concerns vanished the moment she set foot inside the
Muddy Moose. The smell alone, sawdust, cooking oil, and beer, took her back to the first time she had gone there searching for the waitress.
A cluster of men sat at the dark bar, just as before, hunched over their respective beers, backs aglow in neon, with the mounted heads of dead animals keeping close watch. Additional patrons sat at the scattered pedestal tables, and, given the hour, Nina assumed they were part of a regular after-work crowd.
From the jukebox, the Eagles serenaded the crowd with a story about a lonely desperado. At the back of the bar, two double doors swung open, presumably leading to the kitchen, and out came Teresa, wearing a black top over a short skirt, high boots, and enough jangling jewelry to turn her into a walking wind chime. Even from a distance Nina could see the hardscrabble living fused to Teresa's face. Still, she was extremely pretty with that strawberry-colored hair, sexy in the way she carried herself with confidence, and once again it was easy to see why Glen had sutured his lips to her cheek and then to her lips in those kisses.
For a moment, the anger remained visceralâto think her husband had junked her for this woman. Nina was the old model traded in for a flashy (or trashy) newer one. She'd been put to pasture. She'd been made a damn clich
. But then Nina remembered that she was here to get information, and simmering anger would turn Teresa off. With a few deep breaths and long exhales, Nina managed to let go of any lingering animosity.
Teresa weaved between the tables, expertly balancing a tray of steaming hot food, most of it fished from the depths of boiling oil moments ago. She delivered the goods to a table of salivating young people with a smile that made it clear she understood what it meant to work for tips.
Approaching from behind, Nina tapped Teresa on the shoulder after she had jettisoned the heavy food. The marginally perturbed look on Teresa's face when she spun around suggested she was anticipating some complaint: a missing beer, wings without sauce.
“Can I help you?” Teresa sounded genuinely relaxed, not a hint of recognition in her eyes. Nina waited for her to make a connection that didn't come. Certainly, she'd have known from the news that her missing paramour had a family.
“I'm Nina, Glen's wife,” she finally said, wishing she could subdue the shake in her voice.
Teresa returned a blank stare as she switched her tray from one hand to the other. “Have we met?” she asked.
Nina had her phone and the pictures at the ready. Teresa studied the images for a quiet moment, before her expression changed to one of utter surprise.
“What the hell is this?” she said. “Where did you get these? Who are you?”
“I'm Glen's wife, Nina.”
Teresa gave a deep-throated laugh. “Holy shit. Is this a revenge thing? Are you armed? Honey, I swear to you I barely remember that night.”
“Night? You were in love.”
“What?” Teresa's painted eyebrows went up. “No, no, darlin', you got that all wrong. We were in lust, one drunken night only. One.” A single finger raised in the air emphasized her claim.
“But the message?”
Nina showed Teresa the text she'd received along with the pictures, and could see the shift happen like a tide of sympathy rolling in. Whatever hardness lingered in Teresa's gaze emptied on the spot.
“Okay, okay, I think I know what's going on here,” Teresa said, talking sweetly. “Well, not about your husband, but at least about these pictures. Let's you and I sit and talk.”
Nina grabbed an empty booth under a stuffed bison head, while Teresa headed to the bar to get them two Diet Cokes.
“Can't drink on the job,” Teresa said, handing Nina a tall, ice-filled glass.
“And I can't drink and drive,” said Nina.
“Well, this is weird, huh?” Teresa's opener elicited nervous laughter from Nina, but nothing else in response.
“The police were looking for you,” Nina said. “You were on the local news as a person of interest in my husband's disappearance.”
“Me?” Teresa put her hand to her chest. “Why? Do they think I killed him?” Teresa took note of Nina's pained expression. “I'm sorry, that was rude of me. I justâGlen was a regular, we were friends, but I swear to you, I swear, I had absolutely nothing to do with his disappearance. I was long gone before he vanished. What's it been? Almost two years? Do you think he killed himself?”
“I don't know what to think anymore,” Nina answered sorrowfully. “They can't find his body. Maybe he faked his death to run away, start all over without the messiness of a divorce. I really don't know. The pictures. Who would have sent them to me? Why would someone say you two were in love if it was just a one-night thing?”
The revelation that Glen might not have had an affairâNina still wasn't sure what to believe thereâwas surprisingly liberating. Sex
was one thing, but an emotional attachment was a betrayal of a very different sort.
“I bet you anything it was Chris.”
“Yeah, my crazy ex. A real stalker type. He couldn't accept it was over between us. That's the reason I left town. Had to get away from him. Didn't leave any forwarding information; not even my best friends knew how to find me. That guy was going to kill me, I swear. It had to be Chris who took the pictures and sent them to you.”
“Why would he?”
“My guessâfrom what you told meâto get the police involved so they'd launch a search to try and find me.”
“From what I understand, the police didn't really go all out to find you,” said Nina. “So it wasn't much of a search.”
“Shouldn't have been.” Teresa sounded mildly offended. “Like I told you, I'd left a month before he went missing. Why would the cops waste their time tracking me down? I'm guessing Chris saw the news report about Glen, recognized him from that creepy stalkerish photo he took, and figured you'd tell the cops about me. That way he could get a little petty revenge on the guy I slept with and get the police to go searching for me at the same time. God, he's such an asshole.”
“How long have you been back?”
“A few months,” Teresa said. “My mom's got COPD, so I came back to care for her. Don't smoke. Don't start.”
“Don't intend to,” said Nina. “What about Chris? Aren't you still afraid of him?”
“Not anymore. He's in prison in Concord,” Teresa said. “Beat up his last girlfriend, surprise, surprise, so I have at least five years, maybe more, without having to worry about him.”
Teresa reached across the table and patted Nina's hand. “Okay, talk to me, sweetie. I can't sit on my ass for long. Much as I'd like to, the boss frowns on that sort of thing. What else do you want to know?”
Nina's question came free-falling from her lips like the Tom Petty song now playing on the juke.
“What about that night with Glen? Can you tell me anything about it?” Nina felt her cheeks go hot. “Not the details, I mean, just, you know, how it happened.”
Teresa gave another throaty laugh as she tossed her head back.
“Like I remember!” She grimaced with embarrassment. “Sorry, that sounds really, really cold. But it was a long time ago and we were all pretty far gone.”
“All?” Nina got the sense someone else was involved.
“Yeah, it was me, Glen, and this other dude at the bar tossing them back. I knew Glen because, well, he came here a lot. Had the ring, though.” Teresa pointed to her finger. “So I kept my distance. I was good like thatâwell, normally, I mean.
“Anyway, we would talk about fishing, or sports, or the bar. He was great at helping me with this crazy place.” Teresa gestured behind her, as if Glen might be there, dealing with some personnel problem. “You wouldn't think it gets political here, but believe me, there's all sorts of shit going on behind the scenes, and Glen was really good at understanding people, figuring out what to say, how to smooth things over.”
“He was a financial advisor at a bank,” Nina told her. “He understood people as well as he did numbers. It was a skill he prided himself on.”
Teresa had people skills of her own, and took hold of Nina's hand as if sensing her growing distress.
Nina had imagined this moment for so long, what she'd say, how she'd say it. She had rehearsed it like a playâcoming in all hell on wheels. “You give me some answers!” she had shouted in her mind. But this moment was nothing like her fantasy. She had no anger at all. Teresa might drink too much, smoke too much, definitely partied too much, but all of that was a big “whatever,” because something about her, the ease of her being, the relaxed way she spoke, how she called her sweetie, and touched her hand, made Nina like this woman immensely.
“I didn't know that about Glen, the pride and all. Didn't know much about him because it was just a one-night thing. I swear. I had the evening off, and was hanging out here 'cause what else was I going to do? We were having a great time at the bar, things got a little heated as we got drunk, and the other guy said we should take the party to my place, and I was like, why the hell not? I'm not proud of it, but I also wasn't thinking very clearly. Anyway, the other guy passed out on my couch, took off without a good-bye, but your husbandâwell, he stuck around.”
Teresa cringed a little. “I'm really sorry it happened, but that's the whole story and the truth.”
Nina's eyes were filled with doubt.
“I can tell you don't believe me,” Teresa said. “And I don't blame you. But if you ever find Glen, ask him, and then you can be sure. It was one night only. I saw Glen maybe once or twice after that, and then I took off.”
Nina gave a nod. She wanted to accept Teresa's story as the truthâpart of her didâbut she'd need to look Glen in the eyes to be certain.
“If Chris didn't send me that picture I never would have known any of this,” Nina said, her voice getting softer.
“What are you doing here?” Teresa asked. “What is it you're chasing?”
“Answers,” Nina said sorrowfully. “I hate not knowing.”
“Why he cheated? I told you we were wasted.”
“Not only that.”
Nina quickly went through the narrativeâthe job Glen pretended to have and the money he stole from his own family to keep up the ruse.
“I don't know why the bank fired him, they wouldn't give me that answer, and now nobody can find Glen.”
“Oh my, that's a lot of secrets for one man to keep.”
“Tell me about it,” Nina said, again exchanging a knowing look with Teresa. “When you hung out with him, did he say anything about me,
his wife?” Nina's crooked smile acknowledged the silliness of talking about herself in the third person.
“Not much, no.”
“He didn'tÂ â¦ criticize herÂ â¦ meÂ â¦ any?”
Teresa got a faraway look in her eyes, maybe drifting back to memories of friendly chitchat at the bar before alcohol tore down all inhibitions.
“No, we didn't talk about you like that. You were the wife, that's all, and there were his kids, but he didn't talk about them much either. He told me he had business in Carson, but fished every chance he got. I got the sense there was more to the story there, but no idea what a screwed-up story it was. Like I said we wereÂ â¦ you knowâ¦”
“Bar buddies,” Nina said, allowing a little bit of bitterness back into her heart. The rest didn't need to be said. “And he didn't complain about me, his family, not ever?”
“No, but don't kill yourself trying to figure it out. Men can be crazy. The first time I broke up with Chris he faked having cancer so I'd feel sorry for him. Then, I found out it was all bullshit, and that's when I broke it off for good.”
“It's no biggie,” Teresa said with a wave of her hand. “He'll be away for a long time. But picking a man can be like reaching into a bag of jelly beans, you just never know what flavor you're going to get.”
“I have a new man,” Nina said, offering up the information like a reflex. Perhaps she was hoping Teresa, an impartial third party, could waylay her lingering concerns.
“Tell me about him,” Teresa said, her eyes sparking a bit. “I've got about five minutes before I'm on the unemployment line, and much as I hate it, I need this job.”
Nina talked about Simon, how they met thanks to Daisy, and about his job as a teacher, how she'd been judged for moving on so quickly with a new man, how his tragic past and hers might have helped speed up their union, and how wonderful he'd been to her since he'd come
into her life. For whatever reason, Nina felt compelled to share, in brief, her struggles with Maggie. For sure it all took more than the allotted five minutes, but Teresa didn't complain.
“No surprise there,” she said in reference to Maggie. “It's hard for a kid. It was hard for me.”
“You had a stepfather?” Nina asked.
“I wish,” Teresa said sharply. “I had four.”
“Look, I know you didn't come here for my advice,” Teresa said, “but I'm going to give it to you anyway, because you seem like a really sweet girl, and your husband was a real shit, so I'm going to give you my two cents and then I've gotta split. Time is money.”
“I'm all ears,” Nina said, leaning forward, catching that faint whiff of tobacco again.
“Make sure you really know this new guy of yours. Make really damn sure. I made that mistake with Chris, and it's one mistake I'll
drive home Nina thought about Teresa's warning. There were still things about Glen she didn't knowâwhy he'd lost his job, for one, if he had had other “flings,” for another. She'd come to the Moose hoping that insights into his choices would help her feel more comfortable with her own. Instead she left feeling an urgent need to get windows into Simon's life. But how? His parents were gone. There was no extended family to contact. No place to turn for cluesâor in Teresa's words, to really get to know himâunless of course she went to Simon himself for answers. But hadn't she done that? Hadn't they talked, and talked, but did she feel any closer to an understanding? No, not really.
Just before reaching home Nina had a thought and brought her car to a stop in a strip mall parking lot. She used her phone to access a usually reliable source of information.
She had long ago googled Simon's name, because of course she'd do
that before bringing a new man into her life. What had come up was nothing remarkable: links to school-related matters, pictures of him in his Revolutionary War garb from the school website, articles about robotics competitions his team had won, and a few mentions of Emma Dolan's tragic suicide on news and tribute sites. She had researched Emma as well, but had never looked into Emma's family, because it didn't seem relevant. But now she was realizing there was a hidden history there she could mine for information.
Again, she heard Teresa's voice in her head, urging her along. Sitting in her car, she googled Emma Dolan's name, searching for other avenues to explore. She read the obituary. There was a brother mentioned in addition to the parents, aunts, uncles, and husband she had left behind: Hugh Dolan. She googled Hugh's name and got a number of hits fromâof all placesâthe Manchester, New Hampshire, police department website, detailing his numerous arrests for drug possession. It did not take a lot of research for Nina to conclude that Simon's former brother-in-law, Hugh, was a drug addictâheroin and oxy, according to the police logs she read.
He was also on Facebook. Nina matched a profile picture to one of his posted mug shots.
Before she knew what she was doing, Nina had sent him a friend request, with a short message introducing herself as Simon Fitch's fianc
e, because “girlfriend” didn't sound serious enough. A moment later, Nina's friend request was accepted, and a return message hit her Messenger in-box.
So you're the one,
We should talk.