Death Comes Knocking (The Thea Kozak Mystery Series, Book 10)
by Kate Flora
Coming Fall 2019 I knew most people would think the soft gray green we'd chosen an odd color for a baby's room, but it was peaceful and soothing. The baby I was carrying was a perpetual motion machine. I didn't yet know whether MOC—our abbreviation for Mason, Oliver, or Claudine—was boy or girl. What I did know was that whoever we met in the delivery room, the child would need peace and soothing. Or we would. I was prying the lid off the paint can and wondering whether it was safe for a woman shaped like a whale to climb up the stepladder when the doorbell rang. I hesitated before heading for the stairs. We didn't know many people in our new town, which meant it was likely one of Andre's siblings. I like them well enough but their visits go on too long and they're sense of personal boundaries seems nonexistent. I wasn't keen on a discussion of my girth or whether I was planning to breast feed. Still, family is family so I headed downstairs. The woman I found on my doorstep was no one I'd ever seen before. She was absolutely stunning. She was wearing bright red lipstick and a dress that looked like she'd stolen it from gypsies. She smiled at me and held out a hand. "Hi, I'm Jessica." She gestured back toward the street. "I've just moved into the cottage." It was only when she turned sideways and gestured that I realized the crazy dress was hiding a pregnancy about as advanced as mine. "Thea," I said. "Come in. Welcome to the Whales Club. Would you like some tea? "I would love some," she said, following me into the house. Jessica took a chair and studied my kitchen. "Wow. This is lovely. I've always wanted a place like this." "Me, too," I agreed. "So you've moved into the cottage. It looks really cute from the outside. Is it nice inside, too?" She hesitated before answering, then said, "It needs some work. But it will be nice when that's done." We chatted, in the way women do, comparing our baby's antics. As our talk went on, I realized that while she was a pleasant conversationalist, whenever I asked any question that might have given me insight into who she was, I never really got an answer. For all her attempts to appear casual and easy, once or twice, when Andre's dad and his cousin, who were working out on the barn, roared up the driveway in a truck, or dropped something with a clang, she was instantly alert and on the edge of her chair. "My father-in-law and a friend," I told her. "They're fixing up the barn so Andre—my husband—can have a workshop out there. He loves to make things. He's made a beautiful cradle for MOC." "Mock?" she said. "Is that what you're going to name your baby?" "It's short for Mason, Oliver or Claudine." "It will stick, you know." "Do you work?" "Yes." Rude question. But I was too curious to hold it back. Jessica smiled. "I'm a consultant to . . .uh . . . it's a government job. I just need to get the cable people out to get the cottage updated." She'd almost given something away, though I had no idea what. I wasn't going to learn it any time soon, though, because she was on her feet and heading quickly for the door, saying, "Thanks for the tea." I had no idea what I'd done to upset her, but she was definitely done here. So much for another new mother in the neighborhood. Maybe she was just shy or had something in the oven that would burn. So I tossed out, "I'm going shopping on Saturday to get some baby stuff. Want to come along?" She hesitated a moment, like it was a big decision, then said, "Sure. I'd like that." "Pick you up at ten?" "Sure. Ten. That would be great." And she was gone. I stood in the doorway and watched her trot down the rolling green lawn, hesitating at the road and looking around her like she was afraid of hidden bad guys. She was definitely afraid of something.