turned out, Miranda had no intention whatsoever of asking
me to sleep in what had been her husband's room. I was relieved
when she sent me upstairs to a room at the other end of the
house. It was just as small as the room whose closet had contained
the pens and cartons, but it had more windows, allowing for
a cross-breeze, so it felt less stuffy and claustrophobic.
I expected to have difficulty sleeping because I was worried
about Betsy, but as soon as my head hit the pillow on the
bed I'd made up, I was out. I know I dreamed of fountain pens
that night. A lapis blue Duofold Senior featured importantly
in my dream, but upon awakening at the all together reasonable
hour of six-thirty in the morning, only the bright image of
the pen remained in my memory. I smiled as I washed, brushed
my teeth, dressed and wandered downstairs to find some coffee
The pot of coffee that Morris had brewed the night before
was on the kitchen counter, half-full, but I was not the least
bit tempted by it. I looked around, found ground coffee and
even some beans and a grinder. It would have been simpler
to use the ground coffee, but I had urge to grind my own fresh,
so I did. Then I cleaned the pot and started the coffee brewing.
Whistling softly to myself, I dug out some bread and butter
and looked for a toaster. I found a toaster oven instead and
decided that would do. After toast and coffee I'd phone Betsy,
I thought. Although her medications disrupted her normal sleep
rhythms and either made her insomniac or drowsy, depending
on which dosage of which drug she was taking, I felt sure
she wouldn't mind hearing from me early since we hadn't connected
I was enjoying the quiet of the large house and the smell
of toast and coffee when a voice it took me only a moment
to identify called out, "What? Are you still here?"
I turned to see Mrs. Privett pushing her way into the house
through the kitchen door. At that moment, the smell of toasting
bread turned into the smell of burning bread and I quickly
turned off the toaster oven and extracted my breakfast before
it was burned beyond edibility.
"Good morning, Mrs. Privett," I said politely as
I scratched a few black spots from one slice of toast. "It's
nice to see you too this lovely morning."
She just snorted. "I'd have thought you'd have long been
on your way."
"With your cellular phone?" I inquired innocently.
"Miss Carswell would never do that."
"Well, for all I knew she could have left it here with
old Mrs. Clegg," she replied with a sharp jerk of her
head that caused her wig to list slightly to the right. Today
she was attired in a black and yellow mumu with a verdant
green shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Her footwear was
a pair of hot pink moccasins with little red bows on them.
"Why do you call Miranda old Mrs. Clegg?" I asked
in as innocent a tone as I could. "I doubt that she's
much older than you are, if she is, in fact, any older at
all." I looked at her appraisingly. "How did you
get in here anyway? That door was locked."
She flared her nostrils at me. "I've no time to be jawing
with you. Ellen sent me over to pick up a few of her things."
She waved a key at me. "Gave me her key, she did. She's
going out west with Kevin on the next leg of his trip."
"Really? And are they leaving right now? Is that why
she needs her things before seven in the morning?"
"Don't be ridiculous! They can't leave until the child
is well enough."
"Oh, are they taking Needles with them then?"
She looked at me as if I were insane. "What the heck
else would they do with her?"
I just smiled, amused at her sudden avoidance of the word
"hell," and she stalked past me into the hallway.
I heard her footsteps going heavily up the stairs despite
My toast was quickly getting cold and the coffee pot had turned
itself off without my noticing. I poured myself a cup and
sat down at the table to enjoy my breakfast. Somehow, though,
it no longer seemed so enjoyable, so I gulped it down and
took my dish, cup and knife to the sink, where I washed them
carefully, dried them, and replaced them where I'd found them.
I put the bread and butter away and gave the table a quick
wipe. Then I headed off to phone Betsy.
I knew there was a phone in the room where Miranda slept,
but I certainly had no intention of using it. The phone in
the room right next to it, however, the room we'd occupied
for so much of the previous day had a phone in it as well.
I remembered that it was mounted on a wall that abutted on
Miranda's bedroom, but I was sure the phone was portable.
If I spoke at the other end of the room, perhaps my voice
wouldn't carry so much that it would wake Miranda. I remembered
her tale of how Morris had overheard her argument with Martin
and wondered exactly how softly I'd have to speak to avoid
I didn't get a chance to find out right away, for when I walked
into the room, Mrs. P. was already there. I didn't know how
I'd missed hearing her tromp down the stairs, but I had. Perhaps
the water running while I washed up had blocked out her footsteps.
She was standing over the box Anita had left on the table
and removing the pens methodically into a large orange tote
bag. I hadn't noticed the tote bag when she came in. If it
had been visible, I surely would have. It was fluorescent
and it sported a large silhouette of Mighty Mouse.
"What are you doing?" I demanded, walking towards
her and taking the tote bag out of her hand.
"You give that back, you thief," she hissed at me.
"I'm collecting Ellen's pens just like she told me to
do. Those belonged to her father, and she wants them now."
"They belong to Miranda Clegg," I replied. "Though
not the tote bag, I'm sure," I added, removing the pens
and replacing them in their box. I handed her the tote bag.
"If Ellen wants those pens, she'll have to ask her mother
for them. You can't just walk in here and take them."
"And just who are you to tell me what I can and can't
do?" she hissed again. "You don't even belong in
"I'm someone who just caught you in the act of taking
something that doesn't belong to you," I replied.
"They belong to Ellen," she insisted. "I'm
just getting her what's hers."
Rather than arguing the ownership of the pens, I took another
tack. "And why should I believe you?" I demanded.
"Maybe Ellen told you about the pens and you decided
to steal them."
She stared at me, affronted. "Are you calling me a thief?"
"You called me one, and I wasn't trying to walk off with
someone else's property."
Our voices had gotten progressively louder, but I didn't care
if Miranda woke up. Let her come and deal with this. It really
wasn't my business. I just hated the idea of the pens going
to Ellen and her lout of a husband. Especially since Anita
and Miranda had pretty much agreed to Anita's purchase of
the Waterman 58.
"You have no rights here, Mister," she barked. "Ever
since you got here, you've done nothing by get in my way."
"Well, I'm so sorry about that," I gave my sarcasm
"No, you're not," she said, "but you will be
when Kevin finishes with you." And with those words,
she turned on her heel and walked back to the kitchen. I heard
the kitchen door slam behind her. It was at that moment that
I realized I had company. Anita had entered the room.
"What was that?" she asked me, looking sleepy and
disgruntled. "Miranda and I didn't get to bed until close
to three. I hope you haven't awakened her."
My first impulse was to become defensive at her accusing tone,
but I am proud to say that I didn't. Instead, looking at her
tired face, I grinned and said, "Go get yourself some
coffee. I made a fresh pot. There's bread in the cupboard
over the toaster oven, so you can make yourself some toast
too. Then come back here and I'll tell you about it. First
I need to call Betsy though."
I was surprised to see Anita make her way to the kitchen.
She was rarely so compliant. When I dialed my home number,
I got a busy signal. That was unusual at such an early hour,
but at least it indicated that someone was home, which was
a relief. I put the phone back on the wall and sat down at
the table holding the box of pens. Anita joined me a few moments
"Well?" she demanded, as she placed her cup on the
"You didn't make yourself any toast," I said.
"I'm quite aware of that, Robert. I don't want toast.
I want one of those lovely pastries Mr. Diamant promised me
when I spoke with him last night. We're going to meet him
She smirked. "First you tell me what the noise was about
and then I'll fill you in on what happened after you went
I told Anita about finding Mrs. P. loading the pens into her
Mighty Mouse tote. I resisted the almost overwhelming urge
to taunt Anita about her having befriended and defended Mrs.
P. Anita looked very serious.
"You did well to catch her, Bob," she said. "If
she'd managed to get out of the house with them, I'd have
had a hell of a time getting them back, I'm sure."
She nodded. "Yes, I bought them all from Miranda."
"You bought them all from Miranda," I repeated.
"That's what I said."
What were you thinking?" I asked.
She grinned at me. "I was thinking I wanted them and
Miranda wanted to get rid of them. So I phoned Mr. Diamant
and explained the situation to him. He agreed to find a buyer
for the pens I brought with me and for a few more that I described
to him. He'll be visiting me two weeks after the pen show."
I shook my head. "I told you he was sweet on you."
She snorted. "Don't be ridiculous!"
I folded my arms over my chest. "I'm not being ridiculous.
I'm a guy, remember? I know when guy is interested in a woman,
and he's interested."
Anita shook her head and changed the subject. "Did you
talk with Betsy?"
I shook my head in response. "The line was busy."
"At seven-ten in the morning?"
"Yeah, it seemed odd to me too. But at least someone
Anita shrugged. "Well, go try again!" she ordered
The line was busy again. Or still. I sat down again next to
Anita. "Do you think we'll really get out of here today?"
I asked her.
She looked at me sharply, but when she saw that I wasn't trying
to pick a fight, she relaxed. "I certainly hope so,"
she answered. "I really and truly hope so."