Emaline has been taking care of her elderly, cranky grandfather for so long, she wonders if she'll ever have a life again. When he demands a sumptuous meal, she obliges, even baking him his favorite pie. It's Johnny Banister's last meal, but the medical examiner finds nothing suspicious. So why does Emaline seek a way to dispose of the flavoring bottle? And why does she worry that Detective Harry Jordan wants more than the pleasure of her company when he asks her to dinner?
The bottle was still in the cupboard. It sat innocently beside the bottle of vanilla. Almond Extract, 36 percent alcohol by volume. There was about a quarter inch of liquid in it, too much to throw away.
Too dangerous to keep.
Emaline reached for it, then drew her hand back. She couldn't simply toss it into the trash, and pouring it down the toilet was out of the question.
She turned to the stove, where a pot of soup simmered. She'd made and frozen it last summer, when a long spell of hot, sunny days had ripened far more tomatoes than she and Grandad and all the families on the block could use.
If she went ahead with her plan to sell the house and buy a condo, would she find one where she could have a garden?
Don't be silly! You don't need a garden.
But she did. There was something elemental about digging in the rich, dark soil, watching the growth of the seeds, the ripening of the fruit. Every summer, when she picked the first tomato, the first bean, the first cucumber, she felt...awed. Almost as if she should worship Nature, for the miracle of turning sunlight and water into green, growing things.
She forced her thought back to the incriminating bottle. She had to dispose of it. Somehow.
I suppose I could bury it.
But where? In the back yard would be tempting fate, particularly if she decided to sell. What she needed was a place where it would stay in the ground indefinitely. Like under a...a tree, a bush. She'd buy a rhododendron and plant it in the back yard. And before she put the big root ball in the ground, she'd carefully inter the little brown bottle.
Satisfied she'd found a solution to the bottle problem, Emaline gave the soup one last stir and turned the burner to simmer. As she was pouring herself a celebratory glass of Riesling, the phone rang.
She almost didn't answer it, certain it was someone seeking her vote. They always called at dinnertime. As if she'd vote for anyone who called her with a recorded message. If they didn't care enough to call her in person, why should she care enough to vote for them?
At the fifth ring, she decided it must be a real live human being. "Hello?"
"Emaline Banister?" A hard voice. A voice used to getting answers.
A cold knot of fear formed in her gut. "Y-yes?"
"Harry Jordan here. I-- Did I catch you at a bad time?"
The knot thawed a bit. Only a bit. He was a police detective, for goodness sake. "No I was... just fixing some soup for supper."
"A good night for it. I just about drowned coming in from the car."
Surely he wouldn't make small talk if-- "You should have walked from the bus stop with me. It's two blocks." She tried to inject a note of humor into her voice. Instead it trembled, ever so slightly.