Yikes! Who else could one trust? Did Lydia know some deep, dark secret of Highcliff Manor? Sure seemed that way. Only thing was, as I watched her pick up her mug and take a drink of her tea, I certainly didn’t feel as if she’d willingly share any secrets with me.
Time to review Investigating 101.
And maybe time to meet dear Auntie-outside of this place.
I forced a laugh to lighten the mood and hopefully get Lydia talking more. “I hear you. Family is very important.”
She remained silent for a few seconds as if she were studying me. Slowly she drank her tea then said, “One would think.”
Oh, my. “Lydia, do you go to school?”
One would think dear Lydia imagined me a nutcase by her look. “I graduated from high school.”
“Not interested in college?” With her financial backing, I would have thought Lydia could get away from her aunt and Devin, with college being a godsend.
Tears welled in her eyes, making me feel horrible. “I’m sorry I brought that up. So, any plans for tonight?” I asked.
Lydia’s eyes cleared, then darkened. “Don’t try to change the subject. Ian must have told you about me.”
Yikes! “No. No, Lydia. He never said a word. Are you talking about college?”
Robotically, Lydia stood, set her mug, gently, on the counter and turned toward me. “I was accepted to Yale. In New Haven, Connecticut.”
I nodded. “I know where Yale is.” Who didn’t? But she was young and probably felt the need to explain.
“My grades weren’t that good, but I was accepted because of who I am. My father had gone there.”
All sounded great to me. A little nepotism didn’t hurt anyone.
“But…here I am.” She turned to walk toward the door.
Here I am? That was it? “Er, Lydia, I don’t get it. Why didn’t you go to college?”
When she turned to look at me, tears spilled out of her eyes, she sniffled and wiped her sleeve across her face-then spun around and walked out.
Lydia couldn’t get away from Newport. But why? And why not go to Yale like her dad?
I finished my tea, all the while watching the door as if I half expected Lydia to come bouncing back to explain.
What the hell had made that child so unhappy?
“What’s that noise, Pauline?” Miles asked into my cell phone as I turned toward the window in Goldie’s room.
“That’s our boy snoring his way through La La Land.”
After a pause, Miles asked, “How is he?” in the softest, most concerned tone.
Someday I wished some guy would ask about me like that.
“He’s doing great. I’m about to take my lunch break so the staff nurses will keep an eye on him.”
“I know you need to leave to eat, and I’m so glad I got to meet a few of them. Kerie Cetin on today?”
“I think the second shift. Jackie Wisherd will cover me in a few-”
The door opened and Jackie stuck her head in. I waved for her to come in. “She’s here now, Miles. I’ll call you later. Love ya.”
“Love ya too and thanks.”
I smiled and flipped my phone closed then walked toward the door. “Hey. He’s doing fine. No more drainage. No more swelling. And I medicated him about twenty minutes ago. Should sleep the entire hour.”
“Great. I’ll be in and out, Pauline. And take your time. There’s no need to rush back in an hour. Sometimes the lines at The Market can be long. Oh, I assume that’s where you go for your lunch?” She smiled.
Hm. Why did my worst-case scenario mind suddenly wonder if Jackie had been spying on me. Had she coincidently seen me at The Market, or innocently assumed I’d eat there since it was so good?
“Yeah. I’m getting their clam chowder. May I get you something?”
She shook her head. “I always bring lunch. Can’t afford that place on a regular basis.”
I smiled, blew a kiss to Sleeping Beauty Perlman and walked out after making sure Jackie knew my cell phone number even though it was on every chart and document around.
When I stepped into the elevator, I told myself I wasn’t that hungry at the moment, and if Jackie wasn’t going to time me, I might have to make one teeny, tiny stop first.
I stood near the elevator on the main floor and watched until Lydia had walked away from the desk and out the door. She stuck a little plastic clock on the counter that said she’d be back in fifteen minutes. After looking around to make sure the coast was clear, I nonchalantly walked toward the reception area, praying no one would come around.
Surely everyone was dining on caviar and champagne for their usual lunch. That was, except Lydia and me.
All clear, I thought, and moved in for the kill.
Hoping my stomach wouldn’t suddenly growl from hunger pangs, I walked around the desk as if I belonged there. The more innocent one looked, the more innocent they’d appear.
At least that was my motto as I snooped around-and constantly prayed.
The computer files apparently had been cleaned out, as evidenced by the new file names. No more cutesy names from poor Ian. Damn. Even the “frequent flier” title was gone, so it was going to take some time for me to find it. I looked at the clock. My stomach did in fact growl, and I told myself that I’d have to pass on computer nosing around. I clicked the mouse until the screen was back to its original desktop-so Lydia would not be the wiser.
Footsteps took my attention. I looked up to see one of the patients walking into the living room, her face a veritable ball of bandages. It was a wonder she could find her way around. Figured she wasn’t interested in me as she sat down and leaned back in the brocade chair. Probably taking a snooze sitting up was easier on her breathing. I’d seen her around before, and she never paid me any attention. Good thing.
I got up and went into the back room. Things were neatly arranged on the two desks and the bookshelves surrounding the room. Ian must have set it up like that, since Lydia didn’t strike me as the neatest teen on the block.
I walked behind one desk to find a black metal file cabinet with only two drawers. When I yanked on the top one, nothing happened. Locked. Damn. Yet good. Regular patient files weren’t locked up around there so whatever was inside this gem might be of help.
I flopped down into the chair and decided I needed to find the key. In order for that miracle, I needed to think like Jagger. The guy had such a knack for things like this! Slowly I looked around the desk area. Not much except a picture of Cliff Walk, a sailboat in a bottle (go figure) and a pen holder next to a little box that held letters. I assumed outgoing mail.
There was a tiny drawer in the bottom of the box.
Gingerly I opened it. Two Cross pens that looked expensive, a black comb (probably left from Ian since Lydia didn’t look like a teen fashionista who cared about her hair) and a key. But my heart didn’t leap in my chest since it was the old-fashioned kind-long, slender, brass, actually an antique skeleton one that opened old-fashioned doors.
However, I picked up the key and twisted it in my hand, kinda hoping to get some positive vibes from it or even a premonition.
After several minutes I started to set it back in the box when I noticed that part of the built-in shelving had a pull-out section. Much like a roll-top desk cover, only flatter and in the center of the shelves.
As if it had called to me, I got up, took the key and held it toward the lock part. An exact match. When I stuck the key in, my heart did in fact leap in my chest as the lock clicked, and I eased the cover down like a makeshift desk.
Two papers flew to the floor. The rest of the inside had what looked like personal letters stacked and tied in blue ribbon and a few photographs. Old ones. I lifted one up. A handsome man holding a toddler-who looked very much like she’d grow into the teen Lydia-stared out at me. Had to be her late father. Wow. Olivia was definitely the lady in the next picture, holding the baby. Lydia? This time her hair looked too light. Then again, Lydia could have dyed it or her hair had darkened with age.
I swung around to see the bandaged patient standing at the desk. “May I help you, ma’am? Oh, and God bless you.”
I nonchalantly picked up the papers, put them back, then eased the desk closed, locked it, and set the key back in the box-but not before “borrowing” the stack of letters. I would return them tomorrow.
“At lunch.” I looked at the clock as I stuffed the letters into the pocket of my scrubs. “I’m sure she’ll be-” As I made my way around the reception desk, Lydia walked in the front door.
Saved by the sneeze.
“Oh, here she is, ma’am. See you later,” I said to both of them and hurried out, ignoring the odd look on Lydia’s face.
I had to ignore it or-with my damn honest conscience-I might spill my guts about what I’d been doing, or at the very least spill the letters.
Wow. I couldn’t wait to look at them!
Even though the letters were burning a hole in my pocket, I couldn’t risk taking them out in a public place like The Market nor could I take too much longer since I needed to get back to my Goldie.
“Next?” Sheila said in her nifty brogue.
“Hey, Sheila. Guess I’m next. Clam chowder, to go. Please.”
As she fixed my chowder, I touched the stack of papers, pulling my pocket back just enough to read the address.
Mrs. Olivia Wheaton. No Chandler yet.
Great. There might be something very useful for me in these correspondences. I only hoped they weren’t some steamy love notes from Devin. Then again, Devin looked as if he didn’t know how to write.
After grabbing a stack of napkins, plastic spoon and package of oyster crackers, I paid for my lunch and hurried back the several blocks to Highcliff Manor.
Neal’s car wasn’t in the parking lot, which made me relax a bit. Not sure if I was up to seeing him after last night when he’d seen me-all of me. I smiled to myself and went inside.
Lydia was at the computer, so I quickly said hi and went to the elevator. It felt as if she was staring at me. At my pocket. As if she knew I had “borrowed” the letters. Yikes! Quickly I got onto the elevator that seemed to open its doors just in time as I heard Lydia call my name.
I stepped inside the elevator, pretending that I didn’t hear. Hey, I knew myself well enough to know that lying about taking personal property was not up my alley. I would have spilled my guts to her even if she had no suspicions at all.
When I opened the door to Goldie’s room, I was relieved to hear him snoring away. Thank goodness. Jackie was bustling about the room and stopped to look up when she heard me.
Had she been snooping around Goldie’s personal belongings? Did she suspect us or was she more of a thief, since I recalled her making that comment about not being able to afford eating out for lunch.
Damn it. My mind was reeling out of control. Had to be guilt eating away at me. I walked in and smiled at her. “Hey. How is he?”
“Sleeping like a baby since you left. I was just straightening out the place.” She lifted a pillow from the chaise lounge, fluffed it and set it back.
I looked around. “The place looks perfect.” As it had when I left.
Seemed Jackie needed watching.
I let out a breath and wondered if I was overly suspicious of everyone around there. They all couldn’t be involved!
Or could they?
Jackie and I swung around in his direction. I hurried to his side and leaned over. “Hey.”
“None other. How you doing, Gold?” Before he could answer, I looked up to see Jackie gone-without a word. Hm again. Weird if nothing else.
“Do you need anything?” I asked, sitting down on the chair next to him.
“Water. Maybe water.”
“Sure, hon.” I poured some fresh ice water into a cup and held it out toward him. “Take it slow.”
He did, then leaned back and sighed. “Hell of a dream after taking those narcs, Suga.”
I laughed. “Oh yeah? Spill. Was I in it?”
“Ouch. Don’t make me laugh. Yes, you were in it-” He looked around the empty room. “And you and you and even Toto.”
“Oh, stop. Hey, Gold, listen to this.” I proceeded to tell him about my snooping, the letters, and whatever I’d learned about Lydia. Not wanting him to worry, I left out my suspicions about Jackie. I’d keep my eye on her myself.
“Wow. Read me the letters.” He lifted himself up on his elbows then flopped back down.
“You’re still too high on your meds, silly, and besides, I wouldn’t want someone walking in or listening outside the door. For several reasons, Gold, I don’t trust too many folks around here.”
“I hear you, but what about the good doc?” He chuckled then said “Ouch” again.
“Well, I trust him,” I said.
Goldie looked at me, whistled and said, “Good for you.”
“Stop trying to get my mind off delicious Jagger.”
“Touch'e.” He rolled over and moaned.
“Get some more rest, Gold. I’ll be in the chair by the window if you need me.”
“Perfect. Peek at a letter or two and let me know what you find out. If anyone comes in, they’ll never suspect you took the letters from the office.
I walked to the chair, sat down, put my feet up on the ottoman and thought Goldie had a good point.
Except for the heavily bandaged woman-who even I didn’t recognize.