Once home, another thing dawned on me – when the door had opened, I had no sense of Mr. Chambers as a creature. Now, with all the weird concealments, that might be why, but that would also require power to maintain so long. An arcane, on the other hand, isn’t always a true creature yet – he wouldn’t need special concealment – heck, he could even enter the sanctuary as long as he still had his soul.
But I still had a question for Mama. “Why didn’t you want me to say I was going away, Mama?”
That had been the original plan, to drop a hint that I would be away for a few days if the conversation allowed. But Mama had nixed it and told me that if it came up, just to say that I wouldn’t be available. I like Jack a lot – but I have to live with Mama. Besides, when I texted him about the change in plan, he liked her version better.
I hate not understanding what’s going on.
Mama smiled and pointed at the blender, “Leading with too much information to a total stranger is suspicious. Give only little hints – enough to get him curious – not the whole bundle. Otherwise, he may catch on and realize there’s something wrong.”
That made perfect sense. I sighed as I moved the blender from its home to the counter top. “Were you a spy or something?”
Mama laughed, “Or something, yes – in college my friends and I formed a matchmaker’s club. Much the same skill set, really. Get the chicken from the refrigerator, would you?”
I fetched the chicken, feeling foolish. Everyone seemed so much smarter than me lately.
“You know,” Mama began, as she set up the flour for drenching, “I had a friend back then, Sally. She couldn’t for the life of her figure out why we didn’t just walk up to people and tell them who they should go out with – at first. Tact and I suppose guile simply made no sense to her. But she had an incredible knack for getting to know people – and for matching them with others. Sally was the most important part of our success – but she nearly quit several times because she didn’t realize that.”
Mama poured the buttermilk, “She thought that because she wasn’t as tactful – or as clever – as the rest that she wasn’t good enough. Silly, really, but terribly important to her.”
I got the milk from the fridge, “Does Aunt Sally know you still tell this story?”
Mama laughed, “Yes, I’m sure she does. You catch on quickly.”
I chuckled, “She’s a counselor – same skill set.” I got the pudding from the cabinet and tore open the box.
“The important part was that we couldn’t have done it without her. Several times she opposed matches the rest of us thought were perfectly good – once we over ruled her. It was a disaster – she had been so right. We learned that our cleverness wasn’t enough – we needed the insight she had. We were a team – and each member came with their own talents to add to the mix.”
“Uh-huh…” I closed the blender and hit the button.
Mama had stopped drenching the chicken and was looking at me when I finally stopped the blender. “How much blending do you think instant pudding needs?”
I blushed, “Enough, huh?”
Mama went back to drenching the chicken, “Sally would put on her headphones and listen to Pink Floyd. Sometimes I wonder if you aren’t somehow her daughter.”
“Can’t be – I have your nose. Daddy says so.” I went to the refrigerator for the whipped cream.
“Unfortunately for you, yes.”
I twitched the offending nose at her on the way back to the blender, “Jack told me a few weeks ago that I have a pretty nose.”
“Well, he has a good head on his shoulders – that should make up for the poor eyesight.” Mama replied, turning on the stove.
I plopped the whipped cream into the blender. “I like my nose.”
“Hm-hmm…” Mama replied as she dropped in the first piece of chicken. “Now, back to the subject – you know better than comparing yourself to others like that. Why are you doing it now?”
I shrugged, looking for the mixed fruit in the cupboard, “I dunno. This is all so new to me. I’m used to being a slayer – I’m not used to being part detective, part spy, part I don’t know what. It’s so complicated in ways I just don’t get.”
Mama started turning the chicken, “Frankly, I’ve always wondered why it seemed so simple. Few things in life are so easy as ‘that’s a bad thing, slay it’. Surely there had to be things with other motivations than ‘eat the nice human’. The fruit is on the next shelf up.”
Up on tippy toes, I found the can. “Thanks.” I went in search of the can opener, “The Mistress says these things have a way of working out so that you get what you’re ready for – maybe that’s why. By myself, I’m only ready for simple, easy to decide stuff. Not like Jack…”
“Crystal…” Mama said my name in that particular mother voice.
“No, not comparing myself like that. It’s just – the … what do you call it when everything’s complicated and the bad guys are complicating it?”
Mama chuckled, “That would be intrigue, dear. And a very apt term for what is going on now.”
I nodded, trying to open the stupid can. “What I mean is that that kind of thing – intrigue – it’s like it comes naturally to him. Even when we were stumbling around trying to figure out what the heck was going on, he wasn’t fumbling like I was. He just didn’t have enough information – once he did, bingo, he has it figured out. Where’s the thing?”
“The strainer is in the top drawer.” Mama didn’t even look around. “He does seem rather adept at strategy. But if he is a commander type as you said, that would be a necessary part of his skill set, wouldn’t it?”
“I guess.” I dumped the can’s contents into the blender and started scraping out the pieces that refused to leave the can. “Puree or pulse?”
“Pulse – not making baby food tonight.” Mama replied, taking out the chicken and laying it to drain. “You can understand the imprints left on sharp objects.” Mama rarely used the word ‘sword’ because she knew too well I could talk to anything that had an imprint. “That is a skill set itself, from the way you explain it.”
I shrugged, pulsing the blender a few times, “Yeah, I guess. It’s not like talking to a person really – but it feels like a conversation, sorta.”
“The point being that you bring a talent and the intelligence to use it. Do you remember when Uncle Clarence died?”
I was looking for a bowl, “Yes, I remember. It was an accident.”
“I know dear.”
Pulling my head out of the cabinet along with the bowl, I turned to Mama, “Hey, wait a minute – how did I end up with that blade?”
“That woman arranged for it. I’d hate to try and guess her skill set. But to answer you, Claudia couldn’t believe that he had committed suicide. That woman happened to call the day of the funeral about coming to see you and that was how we ended up talking about his death. I did say I wished you could do what you do but only if it were safe. She said it would be and she’d see what she could do. I was absolutely astonished a few hours later when the sheriff’s office called and asked if we could come by the next day. Now how she managed that, I can’t even guess.”
I was scraping fruit cocktail pudding – something only my family adores – out of the blender. “She was there, though.”
“She was. She came that morning and asked to sit in while you handled the blade. She took notes – a lot of notes. Once you were finished, she asked me a number of questions. I was satisfied – I could tell Claudia she was right. But that woman – she did us a great favor. She took what you provided and built a case that proved Clarence hadn’t committed suicide. She said she couldn’t have done it without you – I do not think she was just being polite.”
The kitchen knife Great Uncle Clarence had fallen on didn’t have a name. But it did have a vivid memory of the weird accident. It took a while – kitchen knives have lots of accidents – but I’d seen him stumble and his hand get caught in the ladder back chair. Wrenching it out as he fell, he’d turned the knife the wrong way, twisted himself and ended up falling with the blade facing him and his weight dropping onto the blade. I still remember seeing it from the knife’s point of view.
Thinking about it now, I could see where I had helped. Unless you knew about the chair, it would have looked like he threw himself on the knife. Knowing about the chair made it possible for the Mistress to prove he hadn’t committed suicide.
“Um, is it true that suicides don’t get insurance?” I asked Mama, taking the blender to the sink.
“Most life insurance policies do not pay in the event of suicide, that’s correct. And the answer to your next question is that Claudia did get the benefits of his life insurance because of what you and that woman did. Claudia needed the money, true enough, but mostly she wanted the peace of mind that Clarence hadn’t killed himself. You gave her that.”
I nodded, washing the blender.
Mama started putting the chicken on the serving platter, “And didn’t you tell me yourself you’ve done what you do to help Jack with his present predicament?”
I nodded, “I’ve talked to Arnie and Finley for him. I think it helped…”
“Who else could do that?”
“Some guy named Janus, I hear.” I rummaged for a spoon, “So, I’m not Jenny Bond, super spy – but I’m not useless, either, huh?”
Mama was rummaging for the hot pads to take out the casserole, “Jenny Bond? No, and you are far from useless – or stupid – my girl. Did you know we almost …”
“Named me Jenny… You mentioned it a few times…” I grinned at her.
Putting the casserole on the stove top, Mama smiled back, “I see. Good thing we didn’t go with our third choice. Scarlett Scarlotti would have such an awkward ring to it…”
“What? You two make a lovely couple and…”