Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Chapter Four: Mom

It was just after 4.30 in the afternoon. It was winter in Seattle, so it was raining, cold, already dark. Though they shared the same city, it took as much as 45 minutes to get from Compass’ tiny apartment on Capital Hill to Mina’s palatial house in Green Lake. The house wasn’t actually in the Lake, though Compass often wished it were; it was in the rather fancy, very pricey Green Lake district. It meant an additional slog up the nefarious I-5 corridor, through the center of Seattle and some of its worst traffic.

Far enough away to be a pain the ass to visit, Compass thought yet again as she grimly gripped the wheel and steered around another slow-moving Subaru stationwagon. Close enough for her to expect me to. Her windshield wipers screeked across the window, not quite enough moisture to put them on a regular wipe, not quite dry enough for the intermittent. The noise of the wipers was like sandpaper on exposed nerve endings just now, and Compass had to force herself to loosen her grip, to shake the tension from her shoulders.

She finally got to her mother’s house shortly before 5. Ducking her head to keep the mist off her glasses, Compass darted up the front steps and into the house. The house was, unusually, very dark and quiet. Mina Jones hated dark, hated quiet and usually had every light in the house on. On a normal evening, an expensive sound system piped music or talk radio to every corner: not tonight.

“Mother?” Compass ducked her head into the sitting room where a roaring fire wasn’t. That too was out of the ordinary. Rail-thin, Mina was always cold and had a fire burning year-round. Compass nearly went back outdoors to check the number on the front of the house. “Mom? Come on, I know this is your house. Where are you?”

She began moving cautiously through the house, peering around corners rather than just walking in, or standing stock-still to listen for any movement other than her own, and this in itself was starting to creep her out. The front door had been unlocked, her mother’s car in the driveway. It was unthinkable that Mina would have walked somewhere. Walking was for thick-ankled peasants with dirt between their toes, according to Mina.

Quietly, Compass headed up the stairs and in to her mother’s bedroom. It was empty. It wasn’t just empty-of-people empty, it was empty entirely. All her mother’s clothes were gone. The furniture had been plastic-sheeted like the closing up of a summer cabin or possibly that hotel where Jack Nicholson went crazy and started trying to carve up his family. Mina was gone.

When the police arrived nearly 2 hours later, Compass was sitting quietly on the couch. Todd was in the kitchen making them some hot chocolate laced with generous splashes of vanilla vodka. In her shoes, Todd would have been sobbing and hysterical; Compass’ calm, almost careless demeanor on the phone had freaked him out more than screaming would have.

“I’ve lost my mother,” she'd told him. “That’s two parents in one day. That’s just careless. Please come here now."

Her voice was so wooden on the phone; wooden to match her eyes when he arrived and tried to hug her. The police had taken their time arriving. No signs of violence; obviously the woman had taken time to pack. There was no reason for them to suspect any foul play except that her daughter kept insisting something was wrong. They took a cursory glance around the house, but they refused to file any paperwork until a good 24 hours had passed without any word.

Todd starting calling taxi companies to see if any of them had picked Mina up. As he was talking to someone named “Al,” he picked up the notebook and pen by the phone. The notebook was Yves Saint-Laurant, the pen a vintage Mont Blanc fountain pen. He hung up without a word and started dialing the limos instead. No luck.

“Is your mother rich?” he asked Compass.

“Rich as in oh, that’s rich, or rich as in possessing a lot of money?”

Todd handed her the pen. Compass stared at it as if expecting it to channel her mother and start auto-writing an explanation. “Why are you giving me this?”

“We have so very much to learn, don’t we? Baby, that’s a really expensive pen. Antique. Gold nib. See the diamond set in the tip? That’s several hundred dollars worth of pen. People don’t own these unless they are very rich or serious pen sluts.”

Compass held the heavy pen in her hand. “She isn’t rich. I think she’s comfortable; the insurance from my f-father’s death meant she never had to work, or at least she never did that I remember.”

“Huh. That money lasted a long time, then. Help from grandparents?”

“Orphans all round, actually. We aren’t very lucky with our parents in this family. Maybe there was some inheritance somewhere.”

Todd patted Compass’ hand. “The mysteries just pile up, don’t they.” He watched a police officer wander from the kitchen through the sitting room to another part of the house.

“I’d just like to know she’s OK. It doesn’t matter where she is or why she left. I just want to know that she left because she wanted to, that she’s where she wants to be and that she’s safe there. A note would have been nice.”

“Once you can file a missing persons they can start prowling for real: credit card charges, plane tickets, whether or not her passport has been through a border. We’ll find her. You’re just going to have to be patient.”

Patience was not a trait that Compass possessed. Mina had always blamed this on Compass’ father, the father who couldn’t wait five minutes to find out he hadn’t had triplets after all, the father who couldn’t walk around until he found an exit that didn’t have a garbage truck barrelling down on it. Given what Compass now knew, she no longer blamed Jeremy Jones for the froth that built up on her lips in bad traffic or the unreasonable rage at hangars that wouldn’t separate.

“I’m going to stay here tonight,” Compass decided. “Just in case there’s a reason to.”

“Then I’ll stay with you,” said Todd. “It’s too creepy to be here alone.”

Compass looked at him with real gratitude, the first emotion she’d shown since he’d gotten here hours ago. The cops gatherered ‘round and mumbled something about not finding any reason to be concerned, call tomorrow, paperwork, file some documents, keep an eye out, stay off the phone just in case, mmmrmrmrmm mrmrmrmrm mrmrmrmrrrrm. Todd took on the responsibility of nodding agreeably as they spoke while Compass stared, glassy eyed, at the pen still in lying in her hand.

“I know this pen,” she said suddenly, when everyone but the two of them had gone. “I remember it now, sort of. I remember an old hand gripped around it, a veiny old hand like a grandmother’s or someone. I can see it in my head.”

Todd pried the pen from Compass’ white-knuckled grip. “Tomorrow,” he told her. “It’s late. You bunk out in the guest room; I’ll take the couch. Let it go until tomorrow.”

“You’ll still be here in the morning, right?” she whispered, not looking up at him.

“I promise. I’ll call in sick; we’ll play junior detective.”

Compass nodded. “I’m glad you’ve been at both ends of a terrible day,” she told him.

He watched her walk carefully up the stairs, walking like she was balancing something that would spill if she stepped wrong, and hoped she’d be able to sleep. Regretted making that phone call earlier this afternoon. Finally fell asleep himself.


Small Fish said...

This is great- really good. Can't wait for the next chapter.

Ash said...

I am hooked!