Victor’s landlady, Betsy Shapiro, was at the party, too, but I didn’t have a chance to connect with her. She’s a girl with secrets, not one who easily draws you in. On the surface she seems bubbly and friendly, a perfect hostess, always a winning smile on her face. But behind the smile is a closed gate with a sign that reads ‘No Entry.’ I mean that metaphorically, of course. My feeling is, you only get to know Betsy so well – chit chat about children, business, the weather, a book you’ve both read – and then the gate clangs shut. I was very lucky with the portrait I did of her, catching her at an off moment with an odd naked look of surprise on her face.
Wanting more details, I called Margot, always my best source of information.
“Mmm, she’s a difficult one.”
“She’s always busy. She’s got those tutoring centers, two of them I think, and she just started a headhunting business, and of course she’s the power behind the throne at Malcolm’s real estate company. And then there’s Clark, her stepson. He follows her around like a shadow, poor thing.”
I had a mental image of Clark, who’s in his mid twenties, a dark-haired voluble young man who can’t quite look you in the eye and acts as kind of a schlepper for Betsy, carrying her stuff around, waiting in the car if she can’t find parking, always on his iPad, cross-checking facts and figures for his stepmom, whom he calls ‘Betmom.’
“Do you think there’s a reason she keeps herself so busy? Like maybe she’s hiding something?”
There was silence on the phone for a moment, and then a chuckle. “Oh Nicole, you’re always looking for an angle. She probably just has lots of energy. Although I do sometimes wonder about her marriage.”
Malcolm Shapiro, Betsy’s husband, is a very distinguished, grumpy-looking man in his mid to upper sixties (Betsy’s only about forty-five). People describe him as ‘ailing’ but other than a perennial back brace due to a boating accident years ago, he’s always seemed pretty chipper to me.
I gave a polite little cough. “Well, you did recently tell me you thought she’d been having an affair with Victor.”
“Affair is a strong word. Maybe some kind of attraction.”
I had to think about this. Margot herself had had an attraction to Victor. After he’d disappeared, she’d gone into what definitely felt like a period of mourning, gloomy, low-spirited, not wanting to leave the house or talk to people.
“She charged him low rent because she was attracted to him? That doesn’t sound right.”
“Well, something was going on. And Malcolm – he’s a nice man, bless his heart, but maybe not very sexy. Listen, if you want to get the dirt on all this stuff, you should damn well learn to play mahjong. That’s where all the gossip is.”
I have too busy a brain (you could call it ADD) for card games or mahjong. But everything has its price. “Does Betsy play?”
“She’s killer. Never misses a game.”
“Then count me in.”
To be continued…
Cover photo ~ Fotomural 437, PAPELMURAL.COM, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/