They knocked at the door of Gail’s studio. It was just a screen door, so they could see her bent over the cello, swaying back and forth as if she and the instrument were physically connected. The muscles of her forearms bulged and her face was as concentrated as a blind person’s and it was that, perhaps, a total immersion in her music that kept her from noticing them at first. They had to pound frantically and when Gail finally looked up, blinking at them, annoyed, she was slow to tear herself away from her cello. By then Mona had already come flying across the lawn and within five minutes the police were there and neighbors appeared and the profound country silence was broken by a continuous wail of sirens.
The police questioned Julie in the living room of her parents’ house. There were two of them, the younger one porky and blond with a fuzzy mustache, pink cheeks, and the stupid arrogance of a rookie who’d grown up somewhere in the back woods and now thought he was hot stuff, the older one mild-mannered and debonair with a highish voice that made one wonder about his sexuality.
“You left the front door unlocked?” the older cop asked.
Julie nodded miserably.
“Why was that?”
“I don’t know. I guess I was in a hurry.”
“Anyone ever go there with you?”
“Your friends know about your job at the Randolphs?”
“Did you talk about it?”
“No, not really.”
The young cop jumped in. “You didn’t talk about it, yet your friends knew you had this job looking after an empty house?”
Julie looked from one to the other, confused. The older cop cleared his throat. “Where were you last night, Julie?”
She took a deep breath. Her mother was in the room. “At a party.”
“I see. Whose party?”
“A boy named Ian Hicks.”
“We’re gonna want a list of your friends,” the young cop said.
When they finished interrogating her she wrote out a list, but didn’t include the name Leo Wysocki. It seemed they didn’t know about the cocaine that had been hidden in the pantry, and she wasn’t about to tell them. A smashed-in window had been discovered at the rear of the house, so the presumption was the dead man (who was as yet to be identified) had somehow learned the place was empty and broken in to snoop around and get high.
Gail was overwrought by Julie’s lie about babysitting. “I can’t trust you,” she kept wailing.
“Kids do stuff,” Julie remonstrated. “You and Mona used to smoke pot.”
Gail’s eyes flitted to the window. The cops were just driving away. “Yeah, but I’m a grown-up now and what I did in the past isn’t important. I don’t want you getting in trouble.” She studied Julie unhappily. “That guy o.d.’d, Julie. Take it as a lesson. You’re grounded.”
The police also questioned Diana who, true to her promise, said nothing about Leo or the hidden cocaine. Afterwards she took a long walk and inadvertently ended up at what she now thought of as the house of horror. It was dusk and she wanted to turn and run, but something made her stand there and observe the yellow police tape slashed across the front door, the shadows settling even more deeply over the dreary little house.
Never, she thought, would she allow herself to fall in love the way Julie had. She was still a virgin, had not yet even been properly kissed, a fact that shamed and upset her since most girls she knew already had boyfriends. But Diana was too particular to go with just anyone — at least that’s what she told herself (deep down inside, she feared that her manner was too aloof and her bony face too sharp and ugly to attract boys). She didn’t want to admit, not even to herself, how afraid she was of the bonds created by sexual love, the stupid, desperate emotions that ended up controlling one’s whole life, dulling the brain and pushing one into choices that might be perpetually regretted.
She forced herself to return to the house via the woods, even though the inky light scared her so much she ran most of the way, tripping once and scraping her knee. When she came abreast of Gail’s studio, she heard voices and realized her mother was in there. The two women seemed to be arguing. “What the hell would you know?” Mona yelled. “You live this idyllic, new age, fucking life in Vermont with your cello and your health-food-store-tycoon-husband and your Weimaraner and your kid who makes you look like such a good person because she’s adopted!”
Diana ducked down beneath a window.
“That’s a low blow and you know it!” Gail cried. She sounded really angry. “It’s wrong to have an affair. I don’t care how attracted you are to the guy.”
Her mother was having an affair?
“Oh for Christ’s sake,” Mona said. “Whoever thought you’d turn into such a priss.” Her voice dropped. When she spoke again, Diana had to strain to hear her over the babble of the brook. “Maybe Frank listens to you. I feel as if I’m alone in my marriage.”
“Frank doesn’t always listen to me.”
“Well, he listens more than Harry does.” She sounded all choked up. “You can’t make moral judgments when it comes to falling in love, Gail. It’s just not fair.”
Fair? Diana leaped to her feet. She wanted to smash her hand through the window, but instead she crept away like someone who felt guilty, like her mother ought to have felt but obviously didn’t. When she got to the house, she flew up the stairs and dove into Julie’s room, slamming the door behind her. She threw herself onto the bed.
Unfortunately, Julie was there, in the bathroom. She emerged with red-rimmed eyes. “What’s with you?”
“Nothing.” Diana turned her face to the wall.
“Doesn’t look like nothing to me.” She sat down and drummed her fingers annoyingly on the desk. “Well, I’ve been grounded.”
Diana wished Julie would shut up and go away.
“I’m not allowed to go out at all, not even to work.”
Diana curled herself into a tight fetal position.
“And I can’t use the phone or computer.” She sighed loudly. “You know how to drive, don’t you, Diana?”
Down in the garden Gail called to the dog in a fluty voice.
“I know you do,” Julie said. “You told me you had your license. I need you to drive me into town, Diana. Later. After they’re asleep.”
Diana rolled over and looked at her. “You’re kidding, right?”
“No,” Julie said, and burst into tears.
Downstairs a screen door slammed and there was a rattle of pots and pans. Julie sobbed into her hands. Diana watched her a moment, then rose and went into the bathroom and ran the water till it was ice cold before splashing it over her face. Somehow Julie’s misery made her feel a little better. She went back into the room. “I’m not allowed to use my mother’s rental, but I’ll do it anyway,” she said. “As long as we’re quick.”
Tune in next week for MYSTERY SELVES PART 7: RISKY BUSINESS