time we were supposed to leave to meet Morris Diamant, Miranda
had awakened and was finished with her breakfast. She wheeled
herself to the door and watched me carry our few bags outside
to load into the trunk of my car, distress writ large on her
face. She was clearly eager to come with us, but she didn't
ask and I didn't offer. Anita looked quizzically from Miranda
to me but said nothing.
"Do you want to leave Mrs. P.'s phone here?" I asked
Anita, as she carefully taped up the box of pens and loaded
it into her oversized tote bag.
She dug the phone out and turned to Miranda. "Would you
mind?" she asked.
Miranda swallowed and said, "No, not at all."
Anita walked through the door back into the house when the
cell phone rang. She stopped in her tracks and looked at it
as if it were an alien object for a moment. Then she answered.
Her face was impassive, but I could tell that she was upset
at what she was hearing.
"What?" she said sharply. "No, Joanna is not
here and neither is the child. She is with her parents."
Anita listened carefully for a few moments without comment.
"Yes, I suppose we can do that, though it will be most
inconvenient," she said finally and then terminated the
"That was Mr. Privett," she informed us. "He
was under the impression that his wife was here and had brought
little Anita with her. When I told him that his wife was not
here and that the child was with her parents, he told that
could not be the case because Ellen was at his house. Though
he did not say so, I assume that that Kevin was not. And neither
was little Anita."
Anita looked at Miranda and then at me. "He asked if
Miranda would come speak to Ellen, who is. distraught."
She popped the phone back into her tote. "Maybe I'd better
hold on to this." She frowned. "I suppose we could
stop by the Privett residence and drop Miranda off on our
way to Morris Diamant. But then we really must be on our way."
She made the last statement to Miranda, who looked blank.
"You can't just dump her at the Privetts' place,"
I protested, shocked that Anita would suggest such a thing.
"We're not dumping her," Anita replied calmly.
"Yes, we are," I snapped at her. "Besides,
we'd have to come back here anyway. We can't fit our stuff
and her wheelchair in the trunk, remember?"
Anita looked at me with amusement on her face. "We both
saw Miranda walk with her cane. She can manage the walk into
the Privetts' house and out again."
"But who'll take her home?" I protested.
"I'm sure Morris wouldn't mind going to get her after
we're on our way."
I couldn't believe my ears. "Anita, I really don't think
this is a good idea," I said firmly.
"What do you suggest then?" she asked.
"Maybe we could take her to the Privetts' house and then
go on to Morris, get our business with him settled, stop,
pick her up and take her home. That shouldn't take all day.
Anita smiled at me with affection. "Besides you're a
softie, Bob Harmon. That's one of the things I like about
you. All right. Put out bags back in Miranda's house. I'll
retrieve the portable wheelchair."
I had all the bags in the house before I realized I'd been
conned. I suppose I could have been angry, but I was actually
relieved. By the time I got out to the car, Anita was behind
the wheel and Miranda safely ensconced in the passenger seat.
"Are you sure you want to drive?" I asked Anita.
"I take it you didn't get much sleep last night."
"I'm all right," she said as she turned the key
in the ignition.
got to the Privett home, Ellen was on the front step looking
anxious. As soon as we pulled up, she came running to the
car and pulled open the door. "Mom," she said in
a voice that was a sob, "Kevin took Anita. He said he'll
take her away and I'll never see her again unless I get the
pens and give them to him."
I looked over at Anita, who was sitting calmly, watching Ellen
with an expression of extreme skepticism on her face. Miranda
still looked as bewildered as she had the whole time we were
preparing to leave.
"Let me help you out of the car, Miranda," I said,
opening my door and getting out. "Anita, could you please
get the wheelchair?"
Anita nodded and emerged from the back seat of the car. She
had the wheelchair out and open in a few seconds, and I wheeled
Miranda into the Privett residence with Ellen following close
on my heels, calling out, "Mother, didn't you hear what
Mr. Privett was sitting in front of the TV watching wrestling.
He just grunted when I greeted him. Anita stepped in front
of the TV to block his view and try to get his attention,
but he didn't react until she turned off the set.
"Mr. Privett," she began, "where is your wife?
Where is Joanna?"
He glared at her angrily for a second, then shrugged. "How
should I know? She was here a half-hour ago, but then she
went out, and I turned on the TV."
"Did she have Anita with her when she went out?"
He snorted. "Sure did. That lazy, no good Kevin brought
the child over here and dumped her on us. And with her so
sick too. She should have been in bed, being looked after
by her mother. But no, they were going to take a trip and
leave her here until Teresa was well enough to start taking
care of her again. Imagine! Leaving a sick child in the care
of a high school kid! People didn't do that when I was young."
I agreed with him, and I think Anita did as well, but that
didn't stop her from questioning him further. "Did Joanna
say where she was going?"
"Yep. She said that seeing as how Mrs. Clegg," here
he nodded at Miranda, "was the child's grandma, it was
her place to look after her, even if she was sick. About ten
minutes after than Ellen showed up looking for her and the
kid." He snorted. "Now, cant I get back to my show,
"Mother," Ellen persisted. "Kevin was really
upset. He's short of money again."
Anita interrupted her. "Well, he could sell the store,
couldn't he? Unless he's done that already."
Ellen glared at her. I could see she wanted to tell Anita
to mind her own business, but was restraining herself.
"Mother," she repeated. "Will you please help
me? Those pens have been lying in that box since
Miranda looked from her to Anita and back to her. "I
" she began, but Ellen interrupted
"Don't you care at all? He has your granddaughter. You
may never see her again."
This time Anita snorted. "She's seen little enough of
her all along, Ellen. Besides, she can't give you the pens.
She no longer owns them."
Ellen's eyes widened. "No longer
I'm sorry, I don't
"She sold them to me," Anita said, observing Ellen
"For how much?" Ellen asked quickly. "Perhaps
Kevin would settle for the money."
Anita smiled. "Oh, she hasn't gotten any money yet. There
are a few things that have to happen first. Pens I need to
sell, for instance."
Mr. Privett, got up and turned the TV back on. "If you
folks don't mind," he said, "I'd appreciate a little
Anita grinned at him and then turned to Ellen. "Let's
take this discussion over to the antique store," she
Ellen blanched. "I don't think we should do that."
"Why not?" Anita asked innocently.
Ellen shrugged. "No reason. It's just not very comfortable.
Mother doesn't like being there."
Miranda seemed to be emerging from her bewilderment. "I
don't mind," she said. "We might as well go over
there as stay here."
Ellen shrugged. "Suit yourselves," she said. "She
reached into her purse and began to search. "I can't
find my key ring," she announced. "I hope Kevin
didn't take my keys. That would be like him." She continued
Anita looked at me and then at Miranda. "I think the
door to the store was open when we drove past," she said.
"Let's go and take a look."
Ellen shook her head. "It wasn't open."
"People," Mr. Privett whined. "I can't hear
Anita walked over to the set and turned up the volume. "Let's
go," she said and began walking to the door. Ellen followed
her, looking worried. I brought up the rear, pushing Miranda's
wheelchair. When we got outside, Ellen hung back and allowed
me to catch up with her. She put her hand on the wheelchair
and said firmly, "Stop right here. There's no use in
going any further."
Anita turned and looked at her. "I'm going to talk to
him," she said softly. "There's no use in continuing
the charade." She continued to walk towards the store.
"Don't let her go alone," Miranda said to me. "I'll
stay here. Ellen and I need to talk anyway."
I looked at Ellen, who nodded. "I don't think Miss Carswell
should go in there alone."
By the time I caught up with Anita she was pushing at the
door to the store. It wasn't locked, even though the sign
indicated that it was closed.
"He's likely to be in the house someplace," she
said softly. "With the child."
We walked as silently as we could through the door connecting
the storefront to the disorderly apartment.
"We don't want to startle him," Anita said calmly,
"but we don't want to give him time to leave before we
find him either."
We got as far as the living room when he heard us.
"Ellen, have you got them?" he called out from the
Anita turned sharply and pushed open the bedroom door. He
was packing his clothing and looked up, expecting to see his
wife. I followed her into the room. Needles was nowhere in
"What the hell are you doing here, you old battle-ax?"
Anita grinned at him. "We've come to have a little talk
with you, Mr. McManus. "Where is Anita?" she asked
in a conversational tone.
"None of your business," he replied. "Now get
out of here. I'm busy."
"She must be in the van. That's not very smart, Mr. McManus.
Child protective services will not look well on a father who
leaves his sick little girl in a van while trying to extort
money from his mother-in-law."
"I don't know what you're talking about," he mumbled,
rummaging in his suitcase. I was worried that he might be
looking for a gun, but Anita seemed unfazed.
"I think it's time to call in the police, Bob,"
she said to me, reaching into her tote bag and extracting
Mrs. Privett's cell phone."
"Give me that thing," Kevin ordered her and tried
to take it out of her hand. She shoved him hard and he fell
backwards onto the bed at the unexpected strength of her resistance.
"I wouldn't do that, Mr. McManus," she said softly.
"I have a witness here, and believe me, I'd love to have
your arrested for assault."
He glared at her. "What do you want?"
"The child," she replied. "Little Anita deserves
a better deal than she has with parents like you and Ellen."
He glowered at her. "I love my kid," he said. "I
wouldn't let anything happen to her."
"You are a rotten excuse for a human being," Anita
said firmly. "You would sell your daughter for a few
dollars and turn your wife into an accomplice."
I braced myself for his response, but instead of getting angry,
he just sagged where he sat. "I need money," he
said. "And I need to get out of this town."
Anita looked at him hard. "And what you claim to need
outweighs every other consideration, doesn't it?"
He stared at her, uncomprehending. Finally he sighed. "Get
out of here and leave me alone," he replied. He tossed
the car key at her. "And take the brat with you."
Anita caught the key before it hit her. "I will do that,
Mr. McManus. And I suggest you finish your packing and get
out as well. Before someone presses charges against you for