One False Move Page 64

“Very vaguely,” Myron replied. “It was more like déjà vu than anything concrete.”

Mabel nodded as though this made sense. “It was a long time ago.”

“Then Brenda was at the hotel?”

Mabel looked down, smoothed the bottom of her dress, reached for her cup of tea. “Brenda was there,” she said, “with her mother.”

“When?”

Mabel held the cup in front of her lips. “The night Anita disappeared.”

Myron tried not to look too confused. “She took Brenda with her?”

“At first, yes.”

“I don’t understand. Brenda never said anything—”

“Brenda was five years old. She doesn’t remember. Or at least that’s what Horace thought.”

“But you didn’t say anything before.”

“Horace didn’t want her knowing about it,” Mabel said. “He thought it would hurt her.”

“But I still don’t get it. Why did Anita take Brenda to a hotel?”

Mabel Edwards finally took a sip of the tea. Then she set it back down gently. She smoothed the dress again and fiddled with the chain around her neck. “It’s like I told you before. Anita wrote Horace a note saying she was running away. She cleared out all his money and took off.”

Myron saw it now. “But she planned on taking Brenda with her.”

“Yes.”

The money, Myron thought. Anita’s taking all of it had always bothered him. Running away from danger is one thing. But leaving your daughter penniless—that seemed unusually cruel. But now there was an explanation: Anita had intended to take Brenda.

“So what happened?” Myron asked.

“Anita changed her mind.”

“Why?”

A woman poked her head through the doorway. Mabel fired a glare, and the head disappeared like something in a shooting gallery. Myron could hear kitchen noises, family and friends cleaning up to prepare for another day of mourning. Mabel looked like she’d aged since this morning. Fatigue emanated from her like a fever.

“Anita packed them both up,” she managed. “She ran away and checked them into that hotel. I don’t know what happened then. Maybe Anita got scared. Maybe she realized how impossible it would be to run away with a five-year-old. No matter. Anita called Horace. She was crying and all hysterical. It was all too much for her, she said. She told Horace to come pick up Brenda.”

Silence.

“So Horace went to the Holiday Inn?” Myron asked.

“Yes.”

“Where was Anita?”

Mabel shrugged. “She’d run off already, I guess.”

“And this all happened the first night she ran away?”

“Yes.”

“So Anita could not have been gone for more than a few hours, right?”

“That’s right.”

“So what made Anita change her mind so fast?” Myron asked. “What could possibly have made her decide to give up her daughter that quickly?”

Mabel Edwards rose with a great sigh and made her way to the television set. Her normally supple, fluid movements had been stiffened by her grief. She reached out with a tentative hand and plucked a photograph off the top. Then she showed it to Myron.

“This is Terence’s father, Roland,” she said. “My husband.”

Myron looked at the black-and-white photograph.

“Roland was shot coming home from work. For twelve dollars. Right on our front stoop. Two shots in the head. For twelve dollars.” Her voice was a monotone now, dispassionate. “I didn’t handle it well. Roland was the only man I ever loved. I started drinking. Terence was only a little boy, but he looked so much like his father I could barely stand to look at his face. So I drank some more. And then I took some drugs. I stopped taking care of my son. The state came and put him in a foster home.”

Mabel looked at Myron for a reaction. He tried to keep his face neutral.

“Anita was the one who saved me. She and Horace sent me away to get clean. It took me a while, but I straightened myself out. Anita took care of Terence in the meantime, so the state wouldn’t take him away from me.” Mabel lifted the reading glasses off her chest and put them on her nose. Then she stared at the image of her dead husband. The longing in her face was so raw, so naked, that Myron felt a tear push into his own eye.

“When I needed her most,” Mabel said, “Anita was there for me. Always.”

She looked at Myron again.

“Do you understand what I’m telling you?”

“No, ma’am, I don’t.”

“Anita was there for me,” Mabel repeated. “But when she was in trouble, where was I? I knew she and Horace were having problems. And I ignored it. She disappeared, and what did I do? I tried to forget her. She ran off, and I bought this nice house away from the slums and tried to put it all behind me. If Anita had just left my brother, well, that would have been awful. But something scared Anita so bad she abandoned her own child. Just like that. And I keep asking myself what that something was. What could have scared her so bad that twenty years later she still won’t come back?”

Myron shifted in the chair. “Have you come up with any answers?”

“Not on my own,” she said. “But I asked Anita once.”

“When?”

“Fifteen years ago, I guess. When she called to check up on Brenda. I asked why she wouldn’t come back and see her own daughter.”

“What did she say?”

Mabel looked him straight in the eye. “She said, ‘If I come back, Brenda dies.’ ”

Myron felt a cold gust chill his heart. “What did she mean by that?”

“Like it was just a given. Like one and one equals two.” She put the photograph back on top of the television. “I never asked Anita again,” she said. “The way I see it, there are some things you’re just better off never knowing.”

Myron and Win took separate cars back to New York City. Brenda’s game started in forty-five minutes. Just enough time to run into the loft and change clothes.

He double-parked on Spring Street and left his key in the ignition. The car was safe: Win was waiting in the Jag for him. Myron took the elevator up. He opened the door. And Jessica was standing there.

He froze.

Jessica looked at him. “I’m not running away,” she said. “Not ever again.”

Myron swallowed, nodded. He tried to step forward, but his legs had other ideas.

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