Holding myself together is tough, but if Corinne’s daughter can do it, I damn well better. Distraction. That’s what I need, a distraction.
All sorts of people are here to pay their respects, but middle-aged mourners and upward predominate–partly because Corinne’s own age was fifty-seven, but also because of her profession. I’m guessing she counseled most of the congregation through their own cancer ordeal.
I’m only thirty, but we met that way, too. I’ve also lived under her roof a little over four years, but probably not much longer. It’s Nina’s roof now.
As if she heard her name, Corinne’s daughter twists around in her front-row seat. For a moment she basks in the sympathy wafting her way; but then she sees me, and her head snaps forward so fast that wiry hair of hers actually bounces.
The florid-faced clergyman steps up to the pulpit. “We have gathered here today to honor a woman who…”
I tune out his soporific voice, stare at the stained-glass window, make note of a loose comb in a woman’s frizzy hairdo, and before I know it greetings are being exchanged, backs patted, coats gathered, purses, programs with Corinne’s picture and prayers typed in italics.
We adjourn to the annex community room where tables covered with yellow paper line up in rows, food and drink on three perpendicular to the rest.
Nina is surrounded, but I catch her daughter Jilly’s eye. A soft-bodied eight-year-old with self-esteem issues, this is surely her first funeral. She sends me a brave smile, and I nod my encouragement. She may be Nina’s only child, but she has a life away from her mother, too. She’ll be alright.
I’ve sidled up to my honorary uncles Norman and Tom, two of my dad’s dearest friends.
“Nice homily,” Norman remarks.
Tom just sipped some fruit punch, so he grunts his agreement. Then he asks, “What did you think, Beanie?” My father’s endearment: Lauren Louise Beck, LLBean…
I open my mouth, but that’s as far as I get. Nina is storming toward me, fists clenched, face aflame. A chair falls by the wayside. “You,” she shouts, “you’ve got a nerve.”
The room goes silent. Faces gape and stare.
“You miserable, goddamn bitch. You killed my mother. I can’t believe you’re here, you you you MURDERER!” Hands covering her face, Nina crumbles into the arms of a man in a business suit, the despised ex-husband.
“Now, Nina,” he murmurs. “You don’t really mean…”
Her head snaps up. “Oh yes I do,” she shouts even louder. Then she wrestles out of his grasp, clenches her fists, growls through her teeth.
The uncles and I have backed up so far we’re literally against the cement-block wall. The whole room is holding its breath.
“Nina, really.” I pat the air. “You’re upset. You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“The hell I don’t.” The whites of her eyes are so exposed she looks rabid. “You’re going to jail for a long, long time, Lauren Beck…”
Many of the onlookers are friends of my family. Others know the Beck name from dad’s farm or his real estate dealings, or they remember my brother from the sports page back when he made All-American in lacrosse. Maybe I arrested somebody’s husband or son for something or other, or ticketed them for speeding when I was back on the job.
Nobody here will forget me now. Never mind that I’m innocent; I’ve just become the OJ Simpson of Landis, Pennsylvania.
Pointing toward the door, Nina’s vicious “GET OUT!” lands on me like spit.
Norman steps forward, but I halt him with my arm. “She’s just upset,” I tell the old bulldog. “I’ll be okay.”
But I won’t. My dad’s friend knows it, and I know it; but he backs off anyhow. What other choice does he have?
The annex door clunks shut behind me. Nina’s shocker has temporarily put my grief at bay, but I can’t remember where I left my Miata. Doesn’t matter though; there’s an unmarked car at the curb.
Wearing softened designer jeans, a tweed sport coat, and no particular expression, Scarp Poletta summons me with a lift of his chin. As I plod down the cement steps, he opens the passenger door more like a gentleman than a homicide cop.
When we’re eye to eye, I finally ask. “Is this our first date, or are you here to arrest me?”
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