was asleep in the back of the van. Anita picked her up gently,
trying not to wake her, but Needles woke up anyway. "Where's
my book?" she mumbled.
I leaned over and picked up the grimy volume. "I have
it," I told her. "We're going to take you and your
book over Joanna's house where your grammy and your mommy
are waiting for you."
She smiled at me. "Hi Bob,' she said sleepily. "Read
I reached out and patted her head. "Maybe when you feel
She closed her eyes. "My name isn't Needles. It's Needles,"
she explained in a slightly exasperated tone. "I told
"Yes, you did, Anita," I replied. She giggled. "Read
to me!" she repeated insistently. But before I had a
chance to reply she said, "Sleepy!" and then fell
When we returned to Miranda and Ellen, mother and daughter
"I know that's not true," Ellen was shouting. "You're
just trying to mess with my mind, mother, and I won't have
it. You drove daddy away, not me."
Miranda looked sad, but she answered her daughter calmly,
"Neither of us drove him away, Ellen. He just couldn't
deal with our life together. He wasn't strong enough."
"I don't believe you!" Ellen hissed. "This
is just another trick to get me away from Kevin."
"Why don't you come with us then?" Miranda said
with what I thought was admirable restraint. "I'll have
Morris show you Martin's diary." She looked up as we
approached but didn't seem too surprised to see Anita carrying
"Is she all right?" she asked. "Do we need
to get her to the doctor?"
Anita shook her head. "He'd left her in the van, but
it seems to have done her no harm. Her fever is down, but
"Let's take her to Morris," Miranda ordered. She
began to roll her wheelchair towards my car. "You can
follow in the van," she said to Ellen. "Don't bother
bringing Kevin. If he sets foot in my vehicle, I'll have him
Ellen looked at her mother in disbelief and then turned on
her heel and walked towards the store. When she was nearly
at the door, she turned and shouted, "You can all go
to hell. I'm going to stay with my husband."
"What happened with Kevin?" Miranda asked me as
I took over behind her chair.
"He was packing to leave. The child was in the van. He
blustered at us, well, actually at Anita, a bit, but he caved
in under pressure. She often has that effect on immature men."
Miranda laughed hard. It was good to hear, especially after
the interaction with Ellen that I'd witnessed. "I can
well believe it. I've been known to have that effect myself,
but to a lesser degree, I'm sure."
She reached back and patted my hand. "I meant to tell
you how impressed I am that you and Anita are such good friends.
Not many men would have the guts," she said.
It was my turn to laugh hard. "I think you overestimate
me and underestimate my gender. Anita is a friend anyone would
be honored to have, I said. And at that moment I meant every
Anita heard me, I think, but that didn't stop her from ordering
me to help Miranda into the car. I did as I was told and then
she handed me Needles. "You take the child while I put
the wheelchair away. And put that ridiculous book on the back
seat, will you? We really ought to buy her a new, clean copy.
That looks like she vomited on it."
"Why not let me put the chair in and you keep the child?"
She looked at me as if I were a particularly slow math student.
"I want to drive. Take the child and get into the car."
I shook my head and heard Miranda's low chuckle as I once
again did as Anita ordered.
"Are you sure about leaving the van with your daughter?"
I asked Miranda.
"Ellen may change her mind," she said. If she does,
I want her to have a way to follow us to Morris' place."
I shook my head. "She could walk there. Ellen is a healthy
enough, young woman."
"I don't think Miranda was referring merely to the physical
distance," Anita explained, looking at me kindly. "This
way Ellen has a reason to come back to her mother that allows
her to feel good about herself."
"Huh?" I stared at Anita blankly.
"Returning the van will give her the excuse she may need,"
Miranda explained. "I want to leave the door open."
These women were too subtle for me, and I said so as Anita
got into the driver's seat. She grinned at me and reached
into her tote bag.
"I think I'd better phone and let Morris know what's
happened and that we're on our way."
I noticed that she didn't call him Mr. Diamant, but I wasn't
"No answer," she said. "That concerns me."
She started the car. "I hope he's all right."
got to him, Morris Diamant was serving coffee to Joanna Privett.
He seemed physically well enough but his expression was slightly
dazed. I attributed that to the presence of the indomitable
and daunting Mrs. P.
"Oh there you all are," she announced as he let
us into his house. "I wondered when you'd get here. I
was just telling him," she flapped her head in Morris'
direction, setting her wig askew," that there was nothing
to worry about. I've never seen such a man for worrying."
Morris was holding Needles who'd awakened long enough to say,
"Ghost room?" and then fallen back asleep.
"Excuse me while I put the child to bed," he said
"Where are Ellen and Kevin?" Mrs. P. asked cheerfully.
"I'd have expected them to come with you before leaving
Anita and I exchanged glances, but Joanna didn't seem to notice
that anything was amiss.
"I think a nice, romantic trip to the west coast is just
what those two need," she continued. "They spend
too much time apart."
Morris returned to the room and went straight to Miranda.
"She is comfortable now," he said. "But she
asked for her book."
"It's in the car," Miranda replied. "And it's
in very bad condition. I don't really know
"She shall have a new copy of the book as soon as I get
to a bookstore," Anita announced. Morris looked at her
with a fond, but slightly condescending smile.
"She won't be happy with a new copy. Is there any way
to rescue the old copy?"
Anita sniffed disdainfully, but I could tell by her facial
expression that she knew he was right.
"I suppose it could be cleaned, but it's really quite
Morris' smile grew less condescending. "Perhaps she and
I could make a new cover and binding for it. I have some experience
with binding books, and from what this lady said," he
looked over at Joanna Privett who was eating her third pastry
since our arrival, "someone will have to look after the
child in the absence of her parents."
Miranda, who'd moved from her wheelchair to an armchair under
her own power, cleared her throat. "I thought of taking
her in, Morris," she said calmly. "I'm not so ill
that I can't look after her."
Morris shook his head. "You can barely look after yourself
on your bad days, Miranda," he said gently. "A child
is a lot of work."
"I'm her grandmother," Miranda said, as if we didn't
Morris went over and took her hand. "Perhaps the two
of us together can look after her, my dear."
"Well, well, well," Joanna Privett interjected.
"Isn't that sweet? Ellen always said that her was sweet
on her mother."
"Do be quiet," I said, "or better yet, why
don't you go home?"
Mrs. P. sniffed disdainfully. "Why are you always telling
me what to do?" she demanded. "You don't even live
"Well, neither do you," I replied. "Your husband
is home alone turning into a vegetable in front of the TV
set. Why don't you go inspire him with your presence instead
of torturing us?"
"Ellen told me to meet her here, and I'm staying here
until she shows up. She borrowed five hundred dollars from
me and told me she'd return it today. I brought her a bunch
of stuff she'd left at my place that she asked for."
Mrs. P. pointed at a large, very old-fashioned suitcase that
she had at her feet.
"That's fine," Anita said with a distracted expression.
"Have I returned your cellular phone to you, Joanna?"
I looked at her blankly, wondering if she'd lost her memory
or was up to something. She'd just tried to reach Morris using
that very phone on the short drive over here.
"I'm not sure, dear," Mrs. P. replied. "I remember
that you were going to leave it with me when you stopped off
yesterday, but I don't know for sure if you did or not."
She searched her pockets and the bright turquoise tote bag
she had on the floor next to the old-fashioned suitcase. "It
doesn't seem to be here. I hope you haven't lost
She stopped in mid-utterance. "Wait a minute! When I
went by old Mrs. Clegg's place to pick up the pens, Bob here
said you still had it. Have I seen you since then? I get so
muddled about time."
"No, I think I've probably got it," Anita said,
"but I want to make sure I give it to you before we leave.
It's out in the car, I think. Why don't you come help me look?"
Anita hoisted her tote bag onto her shoulder, and the two
of them walked amiably out the door, leaving Morris Diamant
staring in bewilderment after them. He cleared his throat
and turned to me.
"Is Anita all right?" he asked. "She didn't
strike me as vague or absent-minded before."
I smiled a little condescendingly at him. "She knows
perfectly well where the phone is, and so do I. That's why
she picked up that tote bag. After she and Joanna search the
car thoroughly, leaving you and Miranda time to complete your
conversation in peace, she will recall where she left the
phone and send Joanna on her way with it, ridding us of unwanted
company without being as stupidly insulting as I just was."
Miranda grinned broadly at me, and I was quite proud of myself.
Those women were not the only ones who understood subtlety.
"It seems to me," I continued, "that the two
of you need some time alone to talk over future plans. I need
to phone my wife, so if you, Mr. Diamant
"Please, Morris," he insisted.
"Thank you, Morris. If you could direct me to a phone,
I'd be very grateful. I will, of course, place the call on
my credit card."
He waved his hand in dismissal. "Don't bother with the
credit card. Your wife is not in Australia." He chuckled
faintly at his own joke, and the invited me to follow him.
I did, and he led me down the short hall into a small room
with a desk and a work table covered with fountain pens in
trays. For a moment I was so distracted by the pen display
that I overlooked the phone.
Morris cleared his throat. "Please," he said, indicating
the phone with a brief wave of his hand. It was an old black
phone with a rotary dial, of all things. It did not seem the
least bit anachronistic in the company of all those pens and
of Morris himself. I settled myself at the desk to phone Betsy,
and Morris left, softly closing the door behind himself.