Tabitha was surprised to find her office light still off when she got into work the next morning, and even more surprised to see a light shining under Mr. Daws’ door. He always beat her to the office and he always had the light on when she came in. She set down her purse at her desk and knocked on his door. “Mr. Daws?” she called when he didn’t answer. “Hello?”
She felt a prickle of fear shoot through her. He just forgot to turn off his light and is having a late start, she told herself, knowing that the words ‘forget’ and ‘late’ were not in the man’s vocabulary.
Opening the door Tabitha bit back a scream. Mr. Daws was slumped over in his chair, forehead down on his notes, pen still grasped in his hand. She found her legs weak as she crossed the room. “Mr. Daws,” she whispered, and touched his hand. It was cold and stiff. He was dead.
Tabitha staggered backwards, the phrase ‘not again’ echoing in her mind. What were the chances of walking in on dead people twice in one year? She managed to make it back to her desk and reached for the phone only to pause, not knowing who to call first. Ambulance, police? Mr. Daws Jr.?
Eventually she decided on the latter and dialed his extension. His secretary, Susan, answered. “This is Tabitha,” she said. “I need to speak to Mr. Daws right now.”
“He’s with a client.”
“The--the other Mr. Daws is dead.”
Susan went silent on the other side of the line. “Are you sure?” she said finally.
“I’ll send him right over.”
“Thank you.” Tabitha hung up the phone and started pacing the office. It wasn’t long before Mr. Daws Jr. was in the office, asking her what the hell had happened. “I’m sorry,” she said, and opened the door to his father’s office for him.
Adam Daws was still next to her, staring at his father’s body. Tabitha stood silent and awkward a few paces behind him. “Call Vanessa,” he said. “And my mother--don’t tell her what happened if you can avoid it. And Dr. Rosenberg. His number should be in my father’s files.” It was. Tabitha remembered typing his information when she transferred Mr. Daws’ Rolodex to the computer.
Tabitha called the doctor first, since it seemed like the most straightforward call. She explained exactly what happened and he promised he would be over as soon as possible. Tabitha apparently caught Vanessa just as she was walking in the door, late. “What?” Vanessa snapped. “I have a billion things to do today--dammit!” Tabitha heard the slither-crash of papers falling across the floor. “Lawrence!” She yelled his name into the phone and Tabitha had to hold it away from her ear.
“I’m sorry Vanessa,” Tabitha said, being patient because of the situation. “Your grandfather--he passed away last night. At his desk.” There was silence at the other end of the phone. “Vanessa?”
“Well, that’s the way the bastard would have wanted to go,” she said, her voice more subdued. “I’m coming.”
Vanessa entered the office while Tabitha was steeling herself to call Mrs. Daws. “Your dad is already in there,” Tabitha said. “Do you want to call your grandmother?”
Tabitha took a deep breath and dialed. “Hello?”
“Who is this?”
“Tabitha Silverstein, you husband’s sec--”
She was cut off when Mrs. Daws started screaming into the phone. “You little whore--I knew that’s where he was! Fifty-three years with the man, and this is what I get? It’s been one secretary after another since 1959. You are not special, missy. You’re one in a line of many.”
“Mrs. Daws,” Tabitha said, aghast. “I wasn’t having an affair with your husband.”
“Is that so? Then where the hell was he last night? Working late? Ha. I don’t believe it. I’ve kept every hotel recept, every credit card statement. I have evidence, Mr. Lawyer. This is the very last straw. I want a divorce!”
“Ma’am,” she said, head reeling with the accusations. “I’m so sorry. But your husband is dead.”
Mrs. Daws finally went silent on the other end of the phone, and Tabitha immediately worried that she had messed up. But she could hardly let the woman keep screaming at her for something she would never do. “Dead?” Mrs. Daws whispered, and hung up.
Tabitha tried to call her back but she refused to pick up and Tabitha wondered if maybe Adam Daws should try calling his mother. Tabitha entered her boss’s office. Mr. Daws Jr. had pulled another chair around to his father’s side of the desk. He had adjusted his father so he was upright in the chair, leaning back with his eyes closed. Adam Daws had his head down and he was holding his father’s hand. Vanessa was prowling the office, eying the furnishings, the big beautiful antique desk.
It occurred to Tabitha that now that her grandfather was gone Vanessa was sure to take his place as a partner. She was young--only twenty-eight--but Tabitha had heard Mr. Daws remark that she was almost as good as her father already. That meant that this was now Vanessa’s office, and Vanessa already had an assistant--Lawrence. What did she need Tabitha for?
With that cold thought dawning in her mind Tabitha noticed that Vanessa was holding a piece of paper that she hadn’t had when she went into the office. Vanessa smiled at Tabitha a little when she turned to see who had walked into the room. “I’m sorry to hear that you are leaving us,” she said, her voice sticky-sweet. She held up the paper and Tabitha’s stomach dropped out from under her when she saw it was her resignation letter. How had she gotten it?
“Actually, that was just supposed to be a little joke,” Tabitha said quickly. “It’s nothing.”
“Grandpa had it in his hand,” Vanessa said. “Two weeks notice, you’re no longer happy with your position in the company blah blah blah. It couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.”
“Later Vanessa,” her father snapped, looking up.
“Two weeks should give you just enough time to help me sort out all my grandfathers’ cases.”
“I didn’t quit,” Tabitha said.
“Come now. It’s so much less hassle if you quit than if I fired you.”
Thistle finished his blog post and jumped off the vanity to visit Fritz outside. Without Janine the blog was much more tame. I need to spice things up around here, Thistle thought as he passed through the kitchen. But how?
The Jack Russel was snapping at falling leaves, straining against his chain. It was a comfortable sixty-five degrees out, no need for the air conditioning unit that now took up a few feet of backyard space, but Thistle was immensely proud of his air conditioning and sat on the silent contraption while he visited with Fritz.
“I’ve been thinking,” Thistle said. “Now that Tabitha knows about the credit card, I can buy anything I want and send it to the house. What have you always wanted?”
“A new bone.”
“Of course you do. Cant you think a little bigger than that? What about one of those pink dog houses shaped like a castle? I can order you one.”
“I have a house,” Fritz said, referring to the ugly plastic igloo Tabitha found on Craigslist for free.
“Another dog probably died in that house,” Thistle said helpfully, and Fritz shivered.
“Do you think it’s haunted?”
“Definitely. And you know what, why stop at presents for ourselves? We can buy things for the whole neighborhood. We’ll order Kyle a geriatric hooker and send Playboy subscriptions to Mrs. Garret.”
Fritz gave him a long look. “I don’t know what that means.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Thistle said, going back inside. Money could do so many things….
Tabitha couldn’t stay in the room with Mr. Daws dead and Vanessa firing her. She collapsed at her desk, and, not knowing what else to do, tried to call Mrs. Daws again. The woman might have had a heart attack or something.
Tabitha felt the tears start to slide down her face and soon she couldn’t stop them, and they turned into sobs. She put her head in her arms on top of her keyboard and cried. She didn’t even hear the door open but she heard Mrs. Daws’ voice over her, loud and solid and furious. “Poor dear,” the woman said with no pity in her voice. Tabitha looked up and saw her tight-lipped, wearing a pink velour track suit. She’d obviously left the house in a hurry. “Don’t cry over him. He didn’t love you. He was still in love with Marta.”
“I didn’t--” Tabitha managed to sputter, but Mrs. Daws went on past her into the office that was now a tomb. Tabitha couldn’t take it anymore. She gathered up her things and hurried out of the room, trying to wipe away the traces of her tears as she went down the hallway.
She was looking down at the floor and wiping her nose on her sleeve when she nearly ran into Lawrence. “Hey, watch it,” he said, catching her by the shoulders so she wouldn’t fall. She looked up at him and she saw his face brighten. “Wow, you’re really broken up about the old bastard kicking it, huh? I guess I win the office pool.”
“Tabitha, people have been talking about you and Mr. Daws for years.”
“Go to hell, Lawrence.”
Tabitha felt completely empty when she crossed the street to The Sandwich Shop. She didn’t even notice the cars honking at her, simply walked across and opened the door and leaned against the counter in front of Denise, the girl who worked mornings three days a week before going to class at noon. “Is your boss here?” Tabitha asked.
“Jerry is,” she offered. “Leticia just went to the bank for change.”
“Okay. I’ll wait.” Tabitha paced the length of the store while Denise served two people coming in for early lunches.
“Can I get you anything?” Denise said doubtfully.
“I guess a coffee would be good.”
“Are you sure caffeine is a good idea right now? How ‘bout hot chocolate?”
“Sure. Whatever.” Denise emptied an envelope of cocoa mix into a real mug and added hot water and whipped cream. She finished it off with real chocolate shavings. “Pretty,” Tabitha managed. It felt good to hold something hot and heavy in her hands, something to keep her grounded. She managed to sit down at one of the tables and sipped the cocoa. It was very good.
Leticia returned, coming in through the kitchen with a handful of ones and another of quarter rolls. Tabitha knocked over her chair when she stood up, the crash causing Leticia’s head to jerk up and notice her. “Tabitha, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Tabitha giggled. It was too ridiculous, and once she started she couldn’t stop. Tears rolled down her face as she went over to the counter, leaning on it to hold herself up as the giggles evolved into out and out maniacal laughter, and Denise took a few steps back. “I’m sorry,” Tabitha managed to gasp. “I accidentally quit my job to a dead man.”
“What on earth do you mean?” Leticia handed the money off to Denise and went around to Tabitha’s side of the counter.
“Mr. Daws is dead,” Tabitha said. “I found him dead at his desk this morning. He had a heart attack or a stroke or something.” As she told the story she reached out for her sanity. Bad things had happened. There could be worse things. Could there? Mr. Daws was dead, Vanessa had more or less fired her, and the entire world thought she had been sleeping with her boss.
“My offer still stands,” Leticia told her when she finished. “Do you want to come work here?”
“I think so,” Tabitha said. “Yes, I do.”
A/N: Very sorry about the lateness. Won’t happen again. I started school yesterday and it was a little overwhelming.
Thistle and Fritz arent going to have a lot to do in this mystery (they’ll be doing a bit more in the next one though) so I think I’m just going to let them play a little bit.
So, news--Now starts my career as a cat toy artist. You can buy "I <3 Thistledown Copperbottoms Most Excellent and Refined Catnip. So if you wanna help support Thistledown, me, or my cats, but want something out of the deal, you're good to go.
(You will notice that to the left there is a tiny picture of all 15 of my cats. Ain't they cute?