BY SHERRY MORRIS
“Dina, I’ve got to get something substantial in my stomach. Somebody has to have something edible on this train. Follow me.”
We headed north past our compartments and crossed the threshold into the business car.
“I have the roommate from Hell. We have to switch,” I whispered over my shoulder.
“Mine seems delightful. A lovely little old lady called Norah. She’s napping.”
I grunted. “Must be nice.” I was so tired.
“Are you jealous of Hazel?” Dina asked.
“Nope. She’s a very sweet lady. And talented, hard working and I hope she enjoys every penny they’ll give her. I just love how she writes her guys. It’s almost like she has secret inside information on how the male psyche operates.”
After we dodged the rolling chairs in the conference room we made it to the dining car. It had been prepped for breakfast with little boxes of cereal perched on each table.
I plopped down in a booth, grabbed a box of Special K, ripped it open and gobbled it using my fingers. I washed it down with the tea.
“My mom asked about your Aunt. How is she?” I inquired.
“Working me day and night. I’m so glad her friend Marvin is moving in to help her while I’m away.” An evil smirk morphed onto Dina’s face. “He has no idea what he’s getting himself into. If you ever have to have surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome do not have both wrists repaired at the same time.”
“Because she’s absolutely helpless with both hands and arms bandaged. She can’t get the dressings wet and she’s in a lot of pain. I have to wax her moustache, shave her pits and wipe her nether regions.”
My brother the conductor appeared. “The cereal is for tomorrow.”
“I’m starving. What did you eat?” I asked.
“The crew had pizza.”
“Is there any left?” I devoured it in my mind.
He shook his head. “Sorry. Hey, I’ll bet Mom brought snacks. She’s two cars ahead. Walk through the baggage car and then she’s in the next sleeper car, Compartment H.”
“Thanks!” I was halfway down the aisle before Dina caught up with me.
“Don’t get so far ahead. Do you think we should tell your brother about the red limousine?”
I stopped and whipped around. “You saw the limo, too?”
“Yeah. And those guys looked sinister. They were yelling at a midget.”
“She’s a little person. Midget is an insult. Jeeze, Dina, don’t you know anything about being politically correct?”
“Whatever. How do you know about the midget?”
“She’s my roommate, Mini Mary Agnes. She is really upset. Said they threatened Donaldson.”
“The reverend or Rosemary?” Dina asked.
I shrugged my shoulders.
“Let’s tell your brother.”
“My brother since he’s the conductor or my brother since he’s a Cocoa Beach cop?”
“I don’t know. I guess so. He’ll probably poo-poo it away.”
We entered the baggage car and squeezed down the aisle cluttered with boxes of Bibles and crates of food. I crinkled my nose. This car smelled like a sour mop. I stopped and scanned the area but didn’t see a crow bar. It figured. I was standing in a refrigerated food Mecca yet couldn’t access even a crumb.
I scraped the side of my ankle on a crate of cantaloupes and groaned. Mom’s green steamer trunk was next to it near the door to the sleeper lounge car. We turned the doorknob, stepped through the vestibule, opened the opposing door and entered.
This car appeared to be the mirror-reverse of ours. I heard Christian rock music accompanied by acoustic guitars. My stomach churned as my pulse raced…remembering. I wished every acoustic guitar in the world had washed away with the hurricane.
The silver silk drapes were drawn open on all of the compartments. They were empty. I shoved Dina in front of me and reluctantly headed for the tunes.
Joel Donaldson, the surly nineteen-year-old son of the reverend and Rosemary, played piano. His dad and Andres the lifeguard strummed guitars as Rosemary sang. Surprisingly, they sounded pretty good. Mom clapped to the rhythm. I caught her eye and cocked my head toward the door.
She popped up and rushed us back to her compartment. I slid the door closed. The air conditioning drowned out the music.
“Sandra Marie Faire, where have you been? Why didn’t you tell me you discovered another dead man? I forbid you to work at that job one more day. Do you hear me? Why haven’t you been answering your phone? Did you lose it again? You had it this morning…”
When her interrogation let up so I could get a word in edge wise, I said, “Rosemary confiscated all of our phones and electronic devices which contact the outside world.”
“Why on earth would she do a thing like that? Will it disturb your reading? Have you been talking loudly on the phone again disrupting everyone around you? I’ve told you time and again. You don’t realize how loud you are speaking into the phone—”
“Mom, no. It’s not me. I have no idea what gets into Rosemary’s craw with her rules but since she’s footing the bill we all complied with Her Highness.”
“Wash your mouth out. Speaking of such a beautiful, good woman that way.”
“Mom, do you have any food? I’m starving.”
She touched my chin and looked my face over. “Sandra, you really need to eat regularly. You are going to get constipated and that will lead to diverticulitis and heart disease.”
“Mom, the food?”
“Sit down. You too, Dina. Hello, by the way.”
“Hi, Mrs. Faire.” Dina smiled and sat next to me on the royal blue velvet sofa.
Mom flipped open a suitcase and placed a cloth napkin on each of our laps. Then a hard unbreakable white plate. She dealt low-carbohydrate pumpkin seed bread, lean turkey breast, Muenster cheese and romaine lettuce slices. Then she pulled out a baggie with balsamic vinaigrette and snipped the corner with her manicure scissors. She drizzled the dressing.
I was already eating my top slice of bread before she finished.
As we gobbled the sandwiches, she said, “Lieutenant Hernandez phoned me. He was unable to reach you and has further questions regarding the homicide.”
I swallowed hard. “So the medical examiner has ruled it a homicide? Not an accidental drowning or suicide then?”
“Yes. How could you run off and not tell the police where you were going?”
I finished my sandwich and burped. Mom handed us each a bottle of water. I cracked the lid and guzzled half.
“The police commissioner and four of his officers know my whereabouts. The lieutenant found me. No biggie.”
“Sandra. That is such an immature, cavalier attitude. You are an adult. Act like one.” She took my napkin and wiped some dressing from my chin.
I handed her my plate and she gave me a banana.
Dina finished her sandwich and rinsed her plate in the sink. My mom took it and dried it with the white terry hand towel. “Did you get enough to eat? Would you like a piece of fruit? I have blueberries, oranges, apples and bananas. The bananas need to be eaten before they go soft. None of my kids will eat soft bananas. I always have to make banana nut bread with them.”
“You make the best banana nut bread, Mom.” I wished I had some now.
Dina looked at her watch and said, “It’s after six! We’re late for our first workshop.”
I stuffed my banana peel in the chrome trash slot under the sink. It pinched my finger. I kissed Mom’s cheek. “Thanks for the snack. Love you.”
She kissed me back. “I love you, baby dumpling.”
How embarrassing. She called all her kids baby dumpling. It was fine in private but it embarrassed me in front of Dina.
Mom followed us to the baggage car. I needed to persuade her to return to the crusaders. She thought I was in a book readers club. She didn’t know this was a conference for writers. She would never approve. Not that she approved of much of anything I did anyhow.
“Mom, we’ve gotta go. We’re late.”
“I heard you. Hold on a minute.” She stopped at her steamer trunk and popped the lid open. “Pick a color. Both of you.”
We looked at the sea of crayon colored wool. I selected a multicolored rainbow skein. Dina plucked out a shimmery black one.
Mom handed us each a set of small wooden needles. “These should be perfect for the scarves. Let me know if you need more. Now I must go back to the crusaders. They are starting a rummy 500 tournament.”
“Good luck, Mom. Have fun.” I hurried down the aisle.
“Thanks for the food, Mrs. Faire…and the yarn and needles.”
Dina whispered, “What’s with the yarn?”
“I told Mom we were reading and knitting scarfs for the military.”
“Because she’d have a cow if she knew I was a writer.” I heard the door to Mom’s car open as we entered the conference car. I exhaled.