Maybe it was the ill-fitting clothes Cheryl wore or her slouching posture and too-large glasses that screamed “GEEK!” But then Tricia could identify with that. She’d worn glasses for years before undergoing Lasik eye surgery, and she’d been branded a nerd by the more popular girls in high school, who wouldn’t have been caught dead reading for pleasure, let alone reading vintage mysteries. Thankfully, she’d blossomed in college, where nobody seemed to care much about what she read or did. She doubted Cheryl had ever visited the halls of higher education.
“Is there a reason you don’t look for a job in Nashua or even in Milford?” Tricia asked.
“Oh, yeah—a big reason. I don’t have a car. The Bank of Stoneham repossessed it in April after I lost my job at Shaw’s in Nashua and couldn’t make the payments.”
Tricia refrained from asking why Cheryl had been let go. Probably just the slowdown in the economy. Lots of establishments had had to trim staff. She was glad she hadn’t had to do that.
“I’ve got three weeks to find something before my rent is due,” Cheryl continued. “It’s too bad they don’t pay you for blood anymore. That, I have plenty of. And I haven’t got anything left that I can sell after all I’ve been through this past year.”
Tricia swallowed and felt guilty because she was so well off, without a financial care in the world. And yet, bailing out Cheryl would only be a temporary solution. Should she offer her help, or would Cheryl take it as an insult?
“You know why there’s a problem finding jobs?” Cheryl said with a knowing nod of the head. “Illegal aliens took them all. I heard on TV that there are millions of them living among us right here in the US of A. All I can say is, they’ve got really good disguises, ’cuz I haven’t seen any that look like ET or Vulcans or Klingons or nothin’.”
Tricia covered her mouth with her hand, trying to keep a straight face, because it was evident Cheryl was dead serious. “I don’t think the news media was talking about extraterrestrials.”
“I don’t care what they’ve got extra—I just don’t want them to capture me and encase me in carbonite or make me a slave, mining borate on some distant planet.”
“Ohhh-kay,” Tricia said, and realized how Deborah had gotten away with paying Cheryl only minimum wage. The poor woman was clueless, if not delusional. She’d never be able to appreciate the clever puzzles laid in most mysteries. Heck, had she even read a Nancy Drew novel?
Tricia let her gaze wander back to the investigator stomping through the square’s grassy expanse. Finally, Marsden folded his phone and looked back down at the clipboard in his hand.
“If you’ll excuse me, I need to speak to the NTSB investigator,” Tricia said, grateful for a chance to escape.
“The who?” Cheryl asked.
Tricia pointed at the man across the way. “Him.”
Cheryl stood. “Thanks for talking to me, Tricia. I feel better now. Maybe I’ll call the unemployment office to see if anyone in Stoneham has posted a job.”
Tricia patted Cheryl’s arm. “Good luck.” She watched as Cheryl headed down the sidewalk and turned left, heading out of town on foot, and then Tricia marched across the lawn to catch up with Marsden once again.
“Mr. Marsden!” she called. He looked at her as if he’d forgotten they’d met only minutes before. Again, she introduced herself and repeated her question. “Have you determined what happened?”
Marsden stared at her. “Ma’am, it’s been less than twenty-four hours since the crash. It’ll be months before I make my final report.”
“I realize that,” Tricia said. “I mean, does it look like it was strictly pilot error?”
“I’ve hardly had a chance to gather many facts, let alone make that kind of determination.”
Tricia pursed her lips. She should have known better than to expect any answers from a federal bureaucrat.
“Months, you say?” she tried again.
He nodded, looking a little bored.
Tricia sighed. It was no use even trying to engage the man in conversation. “I’ll let you get back to your work.”
“Thank you.” He turned without acknowledging her further and again consulted his clipboard.
Tricia turned and headed back for Haven’t Got a Clue.
Months. It could take months before a determination was made about the accident.
Tricia felt heat rise from her neck to color her cheeks. Maybe she was impatient, but she didn’t want to wait that long to hear whatever it was Steve Marsden and the NTSB had to say about the crash. What kind of idiot of a pilot lets his plane run out of gas? And just because Russ said it happened all the time didn’t mean it happened to Monty Capshaw. He wasn’t a kid, and presumably he’d been flying for years without incident.
Bob Kelly had to know something about the man. After all, he’d hired him. Tricia reversed course and started north once again, heading for Kelly Realty. Bob had to know a lot more than he’d admitted the afternoon before. Somehow Tricia was going to have to get him to talk.
Bob Kelly’s car was parked in front of his real estate office, but the locked door and CLOSED sign hanging in the window indicated he wasn’t in. Tricia backtracked two doors down to the log cabin that housed the Stoneham Chamber of Commerce. Bob had been its president for at least a decade and often held court there. As owner of most of the real estate on Main Street, he controlled the rents and was the recipient of most of the prosperity that had come to Stoneham.
Prim, proper, and middle-aged Betsy Dittmeyer, the Chamber’s secretary for almost eighteen months, was not as friendly as her predecessor, Frannie May Armstrong. Nor was she a fount of useful information. A stickler for rules and regulations, she seemed to have memorized the Chamber’s bylaws, as well as some receptionist’s handbook, and played more of a gatekeeper’s role—shielding Bob from those he didn’t want to see. Tricia might well be on that list, so she decided it would be best to act as sweetly as possible when dealing with Betsy.
“Good morning, Betsy. Lovely day, isn’t it?”
Betsy’s mouth drooped, her eyes narrowing. “How can I help you, Ms. Miles?”
She was as cold as a day in January.
“I’d like to talk to Bob.”
Betsy lifted the receiver. “I’ll see if he’s in.”
Of course he was in. Tricia could see him behind the glass divide, hunched over his desk, intently staring at the papers scattered across it. The phone buzzed, and Bob picked it up.
“Ms. Tricia Miles is here to see you, Mr. Kelly.”
Tricia watched as Bob’s shoulders sagged. He looked up, saw her, and without enthusiasm motioned her to come in. He mouthed something to Betsy, but Tricia didn’t wait for the reception’s permission to move. She walked past Betsy’s desk to Bob’s office door and entered.
“Am I disturbing you, Bob?” she asked, and closed the door behind her.
He gestured to one of his guest chairs. “No.” His tone was more weary than welcoming.
Tricia decided to drop the pretense and get straight down to business. “I just spoke with the investigator from the NTSB.”
Bob nodded. “I talked to him earlier.” He didn’t offer anything else on the subject.
Tricia looked over the sheaf of stapled papers spread across Bob’s desk. Contracts? He’d said he was worried about liability; no doubt he was checking the exact wording. Had he already spoken to the Chamber’s legal counsel?
“I can’t tell you how upset this whole situation has made me. I know you must feel the same.” But for entirely different reasons, she knew. “Did you personally know the pilot, Monty Capshaw?”
Bob’s gaze dipped to the papers on his desk.
“It’s going to come out eventually, anyway,” Tricia said.