My novel Last Will comes out on April 24th, so in celebration of that, I’m posting an excerpt for Teaser Tuesday! There’s still time to enter to win a signed advance reader copy of the book, too. Visit me over on Facebook, where you can see the full array of things that will get you more chances to win. You can Like my author page on FB, follow my blog, follow me on Twitter, retweet the giveaway, and you can add the book to your to-read list on Goodreads. The contest ends at midnight, April 12th, and I plan to have the books in the mail by that Saturday.
I met up with Mrs. Bryant in the front hall and waited for her to say, “Good afternoon, Mr. Raleigh.” Instead, she reached into her apron pocket, presented me with a handful of message slips, and said, “I need to speak with you, Mr. Raleigh.” Five minutes later, she was sitting on the other side of my grandfather’s desk, looking over the piles of phone messages at me.
“Mr. Raleigh and I had discussed me retiring. My health isn’t what it used to be, what with the arthritis,” she said. I accepted my defeat graciously.
After Mrs. Bryant’s resignation, I called the office of the Chairman of Raleigh Industries, and his assistant said she would call the assistant of the VP of Human Resources, who would hire me an assistant, who perhaps would kill the rat that ate the grain that sat in the house that Jack built. Mr. Tveite was right. I needed help.
I hoped, too, that replacing Mrs. Bryant could be accomplished from a distance, but my grandfather had always managed his own household staff. The next day, Mrs. Bryant presented me with her replacements. She asked me into the kitchen and forced me to engage in a farce of an interview, as though my opinion could be of any value. I wasn’t surprised that one of her prospective hires was her daughter, Mary Beth Trentam, who seemed embarrassed to shake my hand. Nepotism I had expected, but I was dismayed when she re-introduced the other applicant saying, “And you’ve met Mary Beth’s niece, Meda Amos. She’s been helping out temporarily.”
We didn’t shake hands.
Once we were seated at the kitchen table, Mrs. Bryant began by explaining, “Mary Beth’s been working in retail, but she’s really been looking for something more stable.”
“And I’ve come in a few times as temp help for Mother over the years,” Mrs. Trentam said. She was a younger version of her mother, well-built and just starting to go a little thick around the waist. Her hair wasn’t grey yet, but it gave away her age all the same. It was styled with such exacting detail that she must have worn the same hairstyle for the last fifteen years. That or it was a wig.
In a tone of mournful confidence, Mrs. Bryant said, “Meda’s been out of work for about two months now. On welfare. I used to have full-time help, but she quit this August and I never hired anyone to replace her. It’s better to have two people steady. It’s a big house.”
I considered all of it unnecessary information. My personal policy toward most of humanity resembles the Army’s policy regarding homosexuals. I won’t ask; please, don’t tell me.
“I’m sure you know best, Mrs. Bryant,” I caught myself saying, for the third or fourth time in ten minutes. Meda sat to my right at the kitchen table, pretending to sip her coffee, although I could see the level in the cup hadn’t gone down at all. Her serenity had a small chink in it.
If the lovely, shy creature tucked under God’s arm in the Sistine Chapel ceiling fresco of Creation was intended to be Eve, she was nothing but a pale ghost of her Talmudic precursor. Meda was the darkly illuminated incarnation of Lillith, one of Adam’s earlier wives, whom he repudiated for wanting to be on top during sex. As though she could read my mind, Meda glanced at me before I could look away. Her eyes were blacker than my coffee and just as liquid.
Based on my inability to look at her with anything like indifference, I knew it was a horrible idea to have her working in the house full time, but I agreed to it. I also agreed to the salaries Mrs. Bryant suggested. I would have agreed to almost anything to bring the interview to an end.
“You’ll need to get the information to give the accountant for taxes,” Mrs. Bryant said. “Or I could call the accountant.” She was thinking of unanswered phone messages when she stressed the matter of paperwork. I couldn’t be trusted.
Once they were gone for the day I wandered around the house, feeling like a time traveler. In my grandmother’s sitting room, the same lace curtains hung against walls not papered, but hand-painted in complimentary stripes. The furniture was all upholstered in the same shades of blue. I half expected to find her at the piano, absently picking out a song with one or two fingers. I wasn’t afraid of ghosts; as far as I knew, I was the only person who ever died in the house.