Engaged to Die

Engaged to Die by Carolyn Hart Read Free Book Online

Book: Engaged to Die by Carolyn Hart Read Free Book Online
Authors: Carolyn Hart
the rotting weathered wood of a bateau abandoned on a marsh hummock, a majestic purplish blue Louisiana heron in a willow swamp.
    The only sounds were the muted murmur of the television, the thunk of a cane on the parquet, the rattle of dishes behind a service doorway into the dining area, and piped-in music from a recording of “Begin the Beguine” by Tommy Dorsey.
    Annie skirted the big man, glancing to her right and left, trying to determine which way to turn to find room 17. She didn’t want to ask directions of this oaf.
    â€œLady.” His high voice was sharp, like the shriek of wind in telephone lines.
    Annie looked back.
    A meaty hand pointed toward a curved reception desk. “You got to sign in.”
    Annie gave him stare for stare. But rules were rules, even if she didn’t like his attitude. Annie walked to the desk. A ledger lay open, the ruled columns labeled: Visitor, Resident, Time In, Time Out, Date.
    Annie wrote her name. She hesitated for a moment, then scrawled an indecipherable squiggle in the Resident slot. It most certainly did not read Twila Foster. What business was it of moon face whom Annie visited? She flipped the cover shut and veered to her left into a broad hall. She felt eyes following her. She walked briskly as if she knew her way. The room numbers in this hall were in the fifties. Annie did some quick figuring. Each segment of the hexagon held ten rooms. She passed a cross hall and glimpsed the dining room to her right. As she walked, the numbers lessened. She found room 17 on the far side of the building. It would have been much quicker had she turned to her right from the main entry.
    She looked behind her. The corridor was empty. Quickly she stepped to the door, knocked softly.
    In a moment, it opened. A tiny woman peered through thick glasses, her gaze uncertain. A soft cashmere shawl hung from thin shoulders. Her green silk dress was shabby but had once been lovely. A cameo brooch was pinned, a little lopsidedly, to the bodice.
    â€œMrs. Foster? Do you remember me?” Annie heldout her hands, clasped cold, clawlike fingers. “I’m Annie Darling, a friend of Denise’s. I’ve come to—”
    A gong sounded, once, twice, three times.
    Doors opened, up and down the hallway. Old people, some leaning on canes and walkers, a few in wheelchairs, moved slowly toward the nearest cross hall.
    Mrs. Foster fumbled near the door, picked up an aluminum cane. “Oh, I wish I could stop and see you,” she said breathlessly. “But I have to get to dinner. I mustn’t be late.” And she was out in the hall with Annie, pulling shut her door. She stopped, looked up at Annie. “I’m sorry. I really am. But I mustn’t be late.”
    Annie was puzzled. She’d had a most casual acquaintance with Denise’s grandmother, scarcely more than saying hello in passing. Annie understood that old people in retirement homes look forward to their meals. Meals punctuate days reduced to aimless conversation and bouts of bingo and sing-alongs and long somnolent hours perhaps filled with happy memories, perhaps not. But there was no eagerness in Twila Foster’s soft voice. There was fear.
    They stood in the hall amid the lemminglike movement toward the cross hall and stared at each other.
    Twila Foster’s old face suddenly crumpled. “I’m sorry.” A hand plucked at the lace collar at her throat. “You must think I’m rude. But I mustn’t be late.” She ducked her head and followed the others.
    â€œI’ll walk with you.” Annie kept slow pace. She bent over and said softly, “I’m just here to check on you. Denise is worried that something’s wrong.”
    The old lady stumbled to a stop. “Oh, no. Please. Tell her everything is all right. Please.” It was almost a sob. A trembling hand clutched at Annie’s arm. Herhead poked forward as she looked toward the dining room.

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