The three-quarter-inch needle slid easily into my abdomen.
I removed it and patted down the adhesive dressing, knowing that a very important small piece of Teflon tubing was now in place. I picked up a black card-deck-sized gizmo with another needle dangling from its attached tubing, and pushed a button. Insulin, my life juice, flowed down the tubing, then dripped from the needle. I hooked this needle up at the injection site, finished priming, and clipped the insulin pump to my slacks’ waistband -I was set for another day.
The phone rang as I was putting on my jacket.
“Claire,” my mother’s voice resonated in my ear. “Have you tested your sugar this morning?”
“Yes, Mom, I’ve already tested. My sugar’s fine.” I twisted the phone cord around my hand.
“Is the pump working all right?”
“Yes, the pump’s working perfectly.” Shifting my weight from foot to foot, I rolled my eyes. “Mom, you really don’t have to call me every morning like this. I’m a big girl now.”
“Now, Claire, you know what I always say -once a mother, always a mother. I just want you to have a good day.”
I gritted my teeth, frustrated with her fussing, but I tried to answer pleasantly. “You have a good day, too. Gotta get to the office, Mom. Talk to you later.”
I sighed as I groped for the car keys in my purse. I knew she meant well, but…
Guess it’s better if she worries too much rather than not at all. A glance at my watch told me there’d be no time for the gym today -just a quick breakfast at Dewey’s. I locked my apartment door and headed for the car.
A button-push on the CD player and I was listening to Brahms’ Fourth Symphony as I pulled out of my parking space. Sure was a good way to start the day. I had to smile, though. Bet folks would be surprised to find that an ex-cop listened to classical music.
Dewey’s was just a few blocks away. I pulled into the parking lot and headed toward the door. There was really nothing special about the restaurant. It was set up like hundreds of other eateries – booths with fake leather upholstery lining the walls and tables in the middle – but it was my hangout and I enjoyed eating there.
I headed toward my usual table. A heavyset balding man in dark pants and white shirt, sleeves rolled up, approached me. “Hey, Dewey,” I greeted him, “Got anything to eat without a pound of fat in it?”
“For you, Claire, I got something really special,” he grinned, “but I can’t tell you what it is until after you eat it.”
“Like I’m going to trust you.” I laughed. “It’s probably something you found in the alley last night.”
“Darn, you guessed it. You ruined my surprise.” Other patrons, used to our banter, started laughing with us.
I ate, chatted with Dewey and the other customers for a bit, then headed for the office.
My office was in a professional building that housed doctors and dentists. I chose the location so it would be easy for clients to walk into my office without attracting attention. After all, they could say they were there to get a root canal rather than to check on a cheating spouse.
I walked down the hallway and paused in front of my door. The placard next to the entrance always gave me a little burst of pride -Claire Burton, Private Investigator. I sighed as I unlocked the door. How long could I keep this office open? I’d gotten a few jobs serving papers and doing background checks and insurance work since I’d quit the force, but not enough to keep me going for very long. The big agencies had most of the work sewed up. My savings were dwindling. My health insurance was about to expire. I didn’t want to give up on my agency, but it might come to that.
I walked through the small reception area with its few upholstered chairs, small table littered with magazines and a half-dead potted plant. When I entered my office, I saw the light blinking on the answering machine. A message! Maybe a job! I grabbed a notepad and pencil, then pushed the button. A female voice crackled from the speaker.
“What? Private investigator? Sorry, I dialed the wrong number.” I threw the pad and paper on the desk.
My spirits fell for a moment, then I started flipping through the Rolodex. Maybe there was an attorney I could call to drum up some work. The outer office door creaked open, and I heard voices. I jumped up from my desk. Wait a minute! Calm down. Walk slowly to the door as if you haven’t a care in the world. I opened my door and saw a man and woman in the their mid-fifties. They looked tired even this early in the morning. The man had his hand raised, ready to knock.
“I’m sorry.” I smiled. “I didn’t know anyone was out here. Hope you haven’t been waiting long.”
“No,” the man said. “We just got here.”
I motioned toward my office. “Please, come in.”
After we were seated, I said, “I’m Claire Burton. And you are…?”
“We’re the Seabolds,” the man answered. “Betty and Clint.”
“We saw your ad with your picture in the phone book, and I thought… I thought,” Betty’s voice broke. She reached in her purse for a handkerchief while Clint patted her shoulder.
I handed her a bottle of water. She wiped her eyes and swallowed the liquid. “I’m sorry. It’s just that this is so… so hard.” She tried to choke back the tears.
“Take your time. There’s no rush.”
Betty took a deep breath. “Okay. We thought you might be a good person to contact about our daughter, since you’re a woman. We thought you might have more compassion than a man.”
“Is she in some kind of trouble?”
Betty shook her head “no” and buried her face in her handkerchief. Clint put his arm around her and said, “She was in trouble. Now she’s dead.”
Abruptly lifting her head, Betty glared at Clint. “She was trying to turn her life around, Clint. You know that.”
Clint raised his hands in front of his body as if to defend himself from Betty’s words. “You’re right. She was. It’s just that she was a handful for awhile.”
“How did she die?” I asked.
Betty was once again able to talk. “Do you remember when they found a girl’s body in the canal?”
Something clicked in my memory. “Oh, yes. I do remember that. I thought that girl’s name was Cynthia Kagel.”
“It was. Clint is my second husband. My first husband, Bart Kagel, died.”
“Did she get in trouble after Mr. Kagel died?”
“No, Cindy and I got along okay after Bart passed, but she went crazy after I married Clint. Left school, then ran away.”
“But you said she was getting her act together.”
Betty nodded. “That’s the sad part. After a couple of years, she showed up and wanted to start over.
We became mother and daughter again, then this awful thing happened.” She dabbed her eyes.
“Didn’t the police investigate the murder? I seem to remember there was a big to-do over the case, since the body was discovered in the restored canal. The city fathers were pretty upset.”
“Yes, they investigated, but hit a dead end. Nothing’s happened for quite a while. That’s why we came to you. Can you help us?”
I paused for a moment, then spoke. “I’ll be happy to spend a day on this case for you. It’s only fair to tell you that I won’t continue to investigate if I feel the police followed all the leads possible. It wouldn’t be right to take any more of your money if I find I can’t do anything else for you.”
We settled the financial details, then I asked, “By the way, who was handling the case for you at the police department?”
“Just a minute,” Betty said as she reached for her purse. “I still have his card.”
My eyes widened as I looked at the card -‘Donald Snyder, Detective.’
“Do you know him?” asked Clint.
“Uh, yes.” I cleared my throat. “Yes, I’m acquainted with Mr. Snyder.”
As I shook hands with the Seabolds and showed them to the door, my heart sank in my chest. I’d have to see Don again. It didn’t seem fair. I was probably only going to get one day’s pay out of this case, and I’d have to see my ex-fiancé to boot.
To be continued…