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Death in Duplicate
By Valerie Wolzien
Random HouseValerie Wolzien
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Hartford Daily News July 14, 2003 Perry Island, Connecticut This small community was shaken over the weekend by the news that three residents of the Perry Island Care Center, the only nursing facility located on the island, have died "in a suspicious manner" over the past few months. When questioned, a spokesman for the local police department admitted that there has been official interest in the deaths, but declined to discuss further details until their investigation is complete. The owners of the facility were unwilling to comment other than to say that their family had provided the best care anywhere for almost nine decades and they planned to continue doing so to the best of their abilities.
Two people stared at the front-page story. They were both frowning. The young woman whose red braids were wrapped around her head in an attractive but decidedly unfashionable style spoke first. "This is terrible."
She had spoken quietly, but her companion didn't follow her lead.
"Yeah. More for me than you though." His hair, spiky and black, contrasted dramatically with his pale skin and light azure eyes.
Her eyes flicked to his face. "Why? Why should this affect you more than anyone else in the family?"
"Don't look at me like that. I didn't kill anybody. Not that anyone is going to believeme."
"Why not?" Her voice rose and her anxiety was unmistakable. "You're clean. You're going to meetings. You've gotten your life together. Why should anyone suspect you of anything?"
He brushed his hair off his forehead with a tattooed hand. "Yeah. Right. Reformed junkie--just what the police are looking for. You're nuts if you think I'm hanging around to take the rap for this crap--"
"But you can't leave! They'll think you're running away, that you're guilty."
He shrugged his thin shoulders. "They'll think it anyway."
"But where are you going to go? How are you going to earn a living?"
"Who knows? I'll manage." A smile appeared on his face, transforming his dour expression and his companion couldn't help but smile in return. "You know me. Babe magnet. There's lots of babes out there and one of them is gonna be lucky enough to take care of me. Maybe I'll find a rich old woman looking for a thrill."
"But you'll keep in touch? You'll let me know you're okay?"
"Let you know I'm clean, you mean."
"That's not what I said." But her denial came too quickly and they both knew it was exactly what she meant.
The day Susan Henshaw became a grandmother started out badly.
"My cell phone is broken," she announced, giving the little silver disk one last shake.
"Susan, it's barely six am. It's much, much too early to be calling anyone. Besides, there's a perfectly good phone on your nightstand. What do you need your cell phone for?" Her husband rolled over and pulled his head out from under a large down pillow.
"Jed, it's April eighth! The baby is due! Any minute now Stephen could be calling to tell us that Chrissy is in the hospital giving birth!" Susan jumped out of bed. Her long cotton nightgown billowed behind her as she stalked across the Aubusson carpet, smacking her phone with the palm of her hand and frowning.
"Aren't you the attractive woman who was telling me just last night that first babies are rarely born on time so we shouldn't get excited too early?"
"Rarely born on time does not mean never born on time! And I don't want to miss the call!" Susan yelled from the large walk-in closet she and her husband shared.
"You're not going to miss anything. There's a phone right by the bed!" he pointed out again, abandoning the idea of getting any more sleep and sitting up.
Susan reappeared wearing a navy sweat suit, a huge stuffed dog clasped in her arms. "Do you think this might be a mistake? Is it scary? Do you think the baby will like it?" she asked, ignoring his statement.
"Clue certainly doesn't." The Henshaws' golden retriever had climbed into bed the second Susan left, settling down into a warm spot. One of the mildest of dogs, Clue was staring at the toy and growling softly. "And to be honest, I don't understand why a baby who is going to live with two living, breathing bullmastiffs would want a dog made of fake fur."
Susan sighed. "I'm hoping Chrissy and Stephen will decide that a baby is more than enough work and find new homes for Rock and Roll," she explained, referring to the humongous dogs that had been a wedding present from her daughter's in-laws.
"Chrissy and Stephen love those dogs."
"I know. But they're a lot of work. And Chrissy is going to be so busy with the baby and Stephen's going to have a new job soon and they're really going to have to find a bigger apartment once the baby begins crawling around, and . . ."
"And you and Clue would prefer those dogs to vanish."
"Without a doubt. Anyway," Susan said, "Rock and Roll aren't what's worrying me right now. I'm worried that Stephen won't be able to get through to my cell. I suppose I could stay home by the phone all day, but I did have plans."
"So take my cell phone and do what you have to do. I'll be at the office and Stephen can call there and then I can call you."
But Susan was still involved in her own thoughts. "Or maybe he could e-mail me on my Clié," she muttered, picking a small rectangle off her dresser and flipping it open. "Do you think he'll have access to an online computer in the maternity ward?"
"It's always possible, but--"
"And he could certainly leave a voice mail message." Susan sat down in a window seat and pulled on her running shoes.
"I suppose I shouldn't worry so much. The baby probably won't be born today anyway. I'll buy a new cell phone at the mall this afternoon."
"You might just remember to plug your old one in tonight." Jed was staring at the small screen on Susan's phone.
"I plugged it in!"
"Yes, you did." Now Jed was kneeling on the floor beside their king-size bed. "You plugged your phone into the charger. But tonight you might try plugging the charger into the wall outlet." He waved her unconnected charger in the air.
"Oh, I thought I had. Well, at least I won't have to buy another phone. I have enough to do today."
"What are you planning?'
"Well, I'm going to walk Clue and then meet Kathleen for breakfast after she drops her kids off at school. Then we're going shopping. We have a long list of things to buy. We're going to the bookstore first because it's really never too early to begin caring about reading. And I'm dying to buy some books for the baby. And I might pick up a few mysteries for myself at the same time. Then we're heading to Born Yesterday to look at their baby quilts. I just wish I knew whether to buy blue or pink." She stopped talking and looked up at her husband.
"Don't you think it's a little odd that Chrissy and Stephen don't want to know the sex of their baby? I mean, they're usually such a modern couple and the technology is available and it would be much easier to shop for the baby if we knew its sex. Besides picking out names--"
"I can't say I disagree with you, but it's their decision, not ours."
"Well, because we don't know what sex the baby is, Kathleen and I are going to pick out two quilts--one blue, one pink. Then we can call the store when the baby is born and they'll have the appropriate one personalized once we know the baby's name. And they have the sweetest mobiles. I was thinking of picking out two . . . to match the quilts, of course. And the dry cleaner is just around the corner from there and I have to pick up the baby afghan that I made for Chrissy--it's being cleaned so that I can take it down for her to use for her own baby--it's yellow so it's fine for a girl or a boy. And the jewelry store is a few blocks away from the cleaners. I'll pick up the earrings I ordered for Chrissy and talk to the owners about a charm to add to Mother's bracelet--although we'll have to know the baby's name to finalize that, too. . . ." She took a deep breath. ". . . and then we're going to go to Healthy Home, that new ecological housewares store that everyone has been talking about, and see what sort of cleansers they have for the baby's room. And for our rugs. They need cleaning soon, Jed, and I don't want the rug cleaner using anything that might make the baby ill when he--or she--starts to crawl. And then--"
"By the time you finish telling me what you're going to do, I'll be late for work. Why don't we meet at the inn for dinner tonight and you can tell me over a glass of wine all that you accomplished."
From the Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Death in Duplicate by Valerie Wolzien Excerpted by permission.
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