A Long, Hard Look (Chapter 20)

It’ll make more sense if you start with Chapter 1

“Are you going somewhere?” I didn’t understand why she’d stood.

“To talk to Sam. She’s behind this and I want to know why.”

Millie stood. “You don’t know that, Darcy. Gertrude could still be involved.”

“Millie’s right. I believe that you see Sam’s hand in this. But that doesn’t rule out Gertrude pulling the strings. Besides, you told me Gertrude was behind us meeting at the library, behind your boss pushing his buttons. She’s involved.”

Millie’s eyebrows rose a bit, but she didn’t say anything.

She took a step away from the table. “Can we go? I need to walk. Need some air.” Without waiting for an answer, she squeezed between the backs of the chairs and went out.

“I guess we’ll walk. After you?” We waited while folks moved chairs so Millie and I could get through without pushing. I hadn’t noticed the place filling up, but there was someone at nearly every table.

Darcy was coming back from the corner. Head down, feet moving fast, it looked like she was in a walking race. When she got back to us, she slowed but didn’t stop.

“Come on. I want to think this through.” She kept moving so we followed.

“Darcy, slow down or Millie’s going to need a cab.” She stopped and turned around.

“I’m sorry Millie. I’m so upset.” Millie caught up, and hugged Darcy.

“I know dear. And it’s not just all this business. I wish you hadn’t come to your father’s office today. It’s been a long time since he was kind to you. It’s not right and it’s not fair and I hate to see how it distresses you.”

Darcy escaped from the hug like a cat that didn’t want to be held. “I’m okay. Really. He is what he is and I don’t let it bother me so much anymore. No, I’m just fuming at Sam for what she did to Gil.”

“She may have tricked him into hiring me, telling that preposterous story. But do you have any reason to believe she’s responsible for his death?”

“No, absolutely not. But if he hadn’t been involved they wouldn’t have killed him.”

I couldn’t argue with that. Pretty clear case of cause and effect, if we ignore wildly unlikely cosmic conspiracies of circumstance.

“She may not have known how deep the water was when she invited him in for a swim.”

She started walking again, but slower. “It doesn’t matter. She never gave any thought to consequences. She’d make up stories, not caring who it hurt, then act confused when we got mad at her.”

“Sounds like she and Gertrude are more alike than you’ve said.”

Millie was walking between us, slightly behind. “Not at all. Storytelling, yes. But Gertrude’s were malicious. With Sam it was just stretching her imagination, seeing what it was like to make up a story, see if it was believable. She was always so pleased when we couldn’t see through her stories, so frustrated when she made them too fantastic and we caught her out.” I could tell she was having a hard time talking and walking so I slowed down and touched Darcy’s elbow so she’d notice.

“Millie, can we go to your place so I can pace and you two can sit and we can talk this through?”

“I should have thought of that ages ago. I’m almost spent trying to keep up with your young energy.”

We walked back to Millie’s car. She offered me the keys. “You two could sit up front if you like.”

I thought about suggesting we two young folks could sit in back, if we like, but it seemed a bit much for the moment, so I just took her keys and opened both of their doors. I got in and Millie gave me directions to her home, a little Craftsman miles away from the center of town. It was dark, so I couldn’t see it, but I assumed it had a lush green lawn, beds of flowers behind the white picket fence I saw as we pulled into her garage.

We went in through the garage door which opened into the kitchen. The steps were awkward, as if the garage and house didn’t match, which they probably didn’t on a house that had been built in the 30s. Lots of folks still didn’t have cars back then, and those who did didn’t feel the need to house them any better than the horses they were just beginning to replace.

Millie’s home was an elegant match to its history and to her. Wood floors, no unnecessary knickknacks cluttering things up. Quality furniture. We sat on some of the quality furniture in the living room. Well, Millie and I sat. Darcy paced, as advertised. She thought out loud as she went back and forth across the small living room, her shoes tapping on the oak floor.

“Gertrude could be involved. I see that. Gil’s story was classic Sam, so unless Gertrude did that intentionally, which I can’t see, Sam was involved as well.”

“Would Gil –”

She cut me off. “Shh. Gil wouldn’t have trusted Trude; I’ve told you that. No, it had to be Sam. I’m just not sure anymore whether Trude was involved.”

She kept moving, her hands waving around at her sides. “Gil knew something was wrong. He knew he was telling you a story, but he didn’t know why. You say he talked about putting something back shh I’m not asking you I’m telling you. He talked about putting something back, then gave you instructions on deleting some files. Poor Gil couldn’t even keep the story straight.”

It didn’t seem like she wanted any help, so we just sat and listened. It was all making sense, and it helped to hear it all outlined like this.

“Sam claimed, when you met her at the office, that Gil had been fired because his work was slipping. Millie, is that true?” She finally stopped, hands on her hips, facing us.

“Oh, I don’t know dear. I’m not involved in decisions like that. I know nothing about what all those programmers do. And everyone’s afraid to talk to me unless they’ve been summoned by Everard. I’m sorry. I know very little about the ins and outs out among the hoi polloi.”

“Doesn’t matter. Does it? Yes it does. If his code was slipping, if he was fired, it speaks to his state of mind. If not, it tells us Sam was lying to you, which means she knew who you were already.”

She was walking again, tap tap tap back and forth. After a few laps she flopped into a big flower chair.

“Okay, I’m all thought out. Time for assignments.”

Millie smiled. “Who’s giving and who’s receiving?”

“I think you should manage all this. You’re the management type.”

Millie looked at me. I shrugged. “Fine with me.”

“Well, then, I’ll be tracking down the Hansons. And since I’m right there, and have the fearful specter of Everard behind me, I’ll ask HR for the circumstances of Gil’s employment. Was he fired? If so, why?”

“You, Phil, will talk to Sam. No, Darcy, he has to. Tell her you found out she’s Gil’s sister and apologize that you didn’t say anything when you met her at the office. See how she reacts. Mention Gertrude. Mention Darcy. Drop bombs all over if you have to, but shake her up. She’ll fall apart if she knows her story isn’t fooling anyone.”

“This will be fun. Really. So much more fun than simply following her at a safe distance.”

“You’re welcome. But you know it has to be done.”

Darcy sat up and scooted to the front edge of the chair. “Can I help? I think it sounds fun to tweak Sam’s nose.”

“No, dear, you’ve got another assignment.” She took a deep breath, as if she expected to be under deep water.

“You’re going to confront your boss about Gertrude.”

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