Book: Ask the Right Question

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A dark rainy day. A Monday harbinger of winter. Another winter, a thirty-seventh winter. Not good weather for the soul.

About eleven o’clock I was at Mrs. Forebush’s door. Coffee hour. My former father-in-law once explained that eleven is a proper time to visit someone with whom you don’t want to stay a long time. To fulfill social obligations.

The yellow flower was gone from Mrs. Forebush’s hair. So too much of the smile which I had hoped for, even expected.

When she opened the door to me she said. “This morning I had a call from Leander Crystal. For various reasons he has asked me not to speak with you again. I don’t know what you’ve been up to, Mr. Albert Samson, but this is most unlike Mr. Leander Crystal.”

“I’m sorry if I have been causing trouble for you, Mrs. Forebush. It was not my intention.”

“I’m glad you feel that way. I’ve decided that I shall speak to you anyway, as long as you will answer some questions for me as well. Come in, Mr. Albert Samson.”

As we sat down she said, “First, young man, you must tell me what it is that you are really doing. On reflection I find your article story hard to buy. You didn’t ask me the appropriate questions.”

“I’m a licensed private detective.”

“I thought as much. Who employs you, Fleur or Leander?”

“I don’t think that it is what you think it is, Mrs. Forebush. I’ve been hired by Eloise.”

“Little Eloise! Whatever for?”

Nitty gritty time. “Before I can talk about that I’ll need some assurance from you—”

She cut me off. “Oh, piffle. We had an understanding when you left here three days ago. You know we did; that’s why you felt at ease coming back here to talk to me. As long as you are working in the best interests of the child, we are working together, and you have no need to worry about anything that I might tell or not tell anybody.”

She was right, of course. We had an understanding.

“Eloise came to me convinced that Leander Crystal was not her real father. She hired me to find her real father.”

The old lady grew older, dropped to the back of the chair from her perch on the front edge, and considered this information. From the back of the chair she asked, “And have you found the man?”

“I have confirmed Eloise’s supposition.”

“Beyond doubt?”

“Beyond doubt.”

“And again, Mr. Albert Samson, have you found the man?”

“No. I have found that Eloise was conceived while Fleur was in Europe with her husband.”

“Oh, my.”

“As well, I’ve been to see Fleur, last night. But Leander ushered me out.”

“I see.”

“From what you say, he must have pumped Fleur to find out what she told me. I mentioned to her that I had talked to you.”

“And coming here today, what did you think that you wanted from me?”

“When Leander came in last night Fleur was telling me that when her father died you had made some suggestion that she did not approve of. I wanted to know what that was.”

She did not seem happy. “Poor Estes,” she said. “I don’t see how that can reflect on the object of your investigation.”

“If you don’t want to tell me, Mrs. Forebush, I have no way to make you.” Except the one I was using. It was she who had first verbalized our “understanding.”

“All right. All right. It is not much of a story, but at the time I was not entirely satisfied with the circumstances of Estes’ death. It seemed to me … Well, it was Mr. Crystal who found him after the heart attack. Estes was on the floor beside the bed reaching for the buzzer to my room. They said he must have felt pain and fallen out of bed reaching for the buzzer. Now I had pinned that buzzer to his sheet before I went to sleep.”

“I see.”

“On the other hand there is no question that he died of a heart attack, and I suppose he could have pulled the buzzer off the sheet and dropped it on the floor as he fell. It could have been that way. I was upset. It just wasn’t a very happy time.” Nor for Fleur, who might well remember such an accusation out of the proportion dictated by the actual circumstances.

“I’m very sorry to have brought all this up, Mrs. Forebush. But I wanted to know. I’m sorry to have put you through it.”

She thought about that for a while. “I’ll survive,” she said. “One of the problems with being older is that there are more things you don’t like to talk about.”

“One more thing and I’ll leave. This one is more to the point. If Leander Crystal suspected that Fleur’s child was not his own, would he just sit by and let her have it, and then raise it as his own?”

More thought. Her eyes wandered about the violet room, in contrast to the lack of motion in her stiff, drawn lips. Had she remained silent a little longer I would have gone off myself, thinking about age and death and failure. The violet of the room had drawn in closer and become a little darker. What a bad day. And what a poor way to start it.

Finally she said, “I wouldn’t have thought so. But who can tell. I’m hardly an expert on Mr. Crystal.”

“Well, could Fleur have been raped and not told Leander about it?”

She thought again. “I just can’t see the Fleur of those days keeping anything back—either from her father or Mr. Crystal.”

We sat and thought about that. There was not a great deal more to be said.

I took my leave.

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