70 Love in the Old Armchair

Bert had thought long and hard about last Sunday night. And even though it was he who’d first suggested this new project, he worried about bringing together Gertie and the so easy to talk to Mrs. James. Gertie might be tempted to confide about seeing young Mangold at, though not in, the pool. He reasoned that Gertie, not only because he’d asked her not to but in her own self-interest, wouldn’t tell. He’d remind her one more time, nonetheless.

“I’m back!” Stepping into the penthouse foyer, he called out for Gertie’s benefit. It was a big place. Gertie slipped into view, frowning down into her phone. Waiting for her swiping to be done, he wiped down the dog.Chapter 70 Love in the Old Armchair

He had a twinge of his own about Mrs. James. Not the least bit contrite about his own actions, he was still sorry that two women, one before the drowning event and one afterward, had gone through a wrenching experience. Still angry, Bert presumed that this jerk’s own outrageous behavior was more than likely the direct cause of death. However it had played out, going over and over it would yield nothing more, change nothing.

What the association did about it all, what level of responsibility assigned after speaking to Horton, Hearst, and/or Hough, was an entirely different matter. But what if the story did come out, would it make any difference? Even if questioned by the police, his Gertie would be in the clear, at least in terms of cause. He was fairly sure that they all, he, Guy, Gertie, and whoever was the next visitor to the scene, the one with the rope who’d left the scene resembling a macabre game of Clue, shouldn’t have left a drowning victim unreported. That wasn’t right but Bert had decided that it was unnecessary for each of them to risk a worse rap for something none of them had caused, especially when it would all be so awkward. This drowning had nothing to do with any of them; no point in going all soft about it, now. Bert had no axe to grind now that Mangold had paid a price, his many pounds of flesh, for his sexual and social advances, although he admitted to some relish in his own spite-fueled, poolside contributions.

“You were gone awhile, Dad. I was beginning to wonder if you were caught in the rain, after all.” They stood by the banks of floor to ceiling windows, watching the lake mists meld with the thunderclouds as the storm sped eastward.

“Nope. Got chatting with Mrs. James, though not about your party plans. She was seeing off those girls she takes care of into the waiting arms of their droll aunt, Gina. Ever met her?”

“Not yet. I’ve heard she’s regular, like clockwork. Maybe comes from working for the police.”

“Police, you say? She’s a cop? Let’s sit down. I’m weary.” Bert sank into his favorite armchair and put up his feet.

Gertie took over a couch, fighting with pillows in search of maximum comfort. Pocano flopped on the floor, resigned to the chair-less consequences of a damp fur day. “Administrative, I heard. It was Poppy and Pansy’s mother, Georgia – she’s Gina’s sister – who came to take pictures last Monday. She works for the police, too, Mrs. James said, as a photographer. That’s when Georgia first met Mrs. James.” Gertie read the perplexed expression on her father’s face. “Too many cops for you?”

“Possibly a little too close to the nub under the circumstances. You will remember to keep our business to ourselves, won’t you?”

“Well, I don’t ever talk to those sisters, so no fear. Mrs. James and I have lots of other things to discuss and anyway, the longer I take to tell her I knew something about it or could have prevented her from discovering the body, the worse I’m going to feel.”

“Do you think she’d ever repeat your confidences?”

“I guess it would be more that she’d suggest I tell everything I know to the detectives, the way they asked us to at the meeting on Wednesday night. They are obviously looking for more information, right?”

“Yes, because they’re stuck. Nothing we can say will unstick them. And anything we do say will be trouble for us.”

“Let sleeping dogs lie?” Gertie glanced down at Pocano.

A two storey, townhouse condo with floor to ceiling windows.

A two storey, riverside townhouse condo with floor to ceiling windows.

“Exactly.”

“Did you like her?”

“Sorry…?”

“Gina. You said she was droll. That must be a refreshing change from having passes tossed at you, left and right.”

“It was all a bit rushed. The kids came over to pet the dog. Apparently they met Pocano last Monday morning. I kind of figured who they were but just then up comes a car and out flies this woman, maybe a bit concerned that they were alone and approaching a strange man and a large dog.”

“You are pretty scary together, Dad. Let me guess, Mrs. James saved the day.”

“She’s very good. Smoothed it all out. Introductions all round. Somehow we all ended up talking about dog recipes. Then the storm broke. Put an end to it.”

“You sound disappointed.”

“Just as she was leaving, she was joking about our maybe talking again about pet food. Would never have guessed her for a cop.”

“Funny. You’ll have to time your walk next Monday morning to trade recipes. See if you can catch her on the fly.”

“She comes in with the garbage truck.”

“What?”

“That was another joke she made. We never hear it but that’s when the truck comes.”

“A woman with a sense of humor. Is this the new way to your heart, Dad?”

“She doesn’t know me from Adam, Gertie, or what I am. I’m just a name, if she bothers to remember it even. It would sure be a change for me though, darling. Time for a refresher, I think.” He hoisted himself out of the chair and over to the wet bar. “A scotch on the rocks for me. You?”

“I guess. No swimming tonight. Ping-pong instead, soon.” Bert handed her an icy-cold tumbler, and resumed his well-worn chair.

“To true romance,” Gertie raised her glass. Bert echoed her toast, then sighed. He had found Gina appealing, but a policewoman, two in fact, coming into his private family sphere? He wished that he needn’t always have to be so careful about life.

“Let us proceed cautiously.”

Bert wasn’t sure he wanted any romance. He’d made out pretty well without it, for a long time now. Was it because wealth supplanted love’s benefits? Was it his nature? He knew he loved Gertie, liked her company, too; that was what he liked, just the ease of it. She’d find true love one day. It was her turn. Their own relationship wouldn’t change so much, simply become limited. Her time would be spent elsewhere, as it should be, of course. True romance sounded an exhausting prospect. He doubted he had the courage or the strength for it. Someone to be with, that was the ticket. Socially presentable for certain unavoidable occasions, not so young as to ruffle opinion’s feathers, self-reliant – so he needn’t bother – and quietly amusing. He saw it all at once. The portrait filled the frame.