--by Anne


The cab ride back to the Montaigne Plaza Hotel was conducted in deafening silence. Jessica was angry – of this Grady was absolutely certain. In all his years growing up he could remember only a handful of times when she had been well and truly angered over something he had done, but those episodes of youthful indiscretion were nothing compared to this.

When Inspector Matheney had come in and told him that his aunt had arrived at the precinct to bail him out, he had been overjoyed … until she had stepped into the interview room and looked at him. She hadn’t needed to say a word – the look on her face said enough. As he meekly followed her out of the police station, he realized with a sinking heart that it probably would have gone better for him if he’d remained in a jail cell.

On returning to their suite at the Montaigne, Jessica sighed gustily and threw her purse down on to a chair.  Then she turned to face her nephew.

            Grady, shoulders slumped, squirmed under the force of her gaze. “I really appreciate all the trouble you went through, Aunt Jess,” he said in a small voice.

            “Good!” said Jessica with some heat. “Then maybe in gratitude you can tell me why you did something so, so …” she paused, at a rare loss for words.

            “Dumb?” Grady supplied.

            “Good word.”

            Grady desperately tried to explain his actions. “A friend was in trouble. I helped him out.”

            His explanation failed to satisfy his aunt. “And if he’d asked you to rob a bank, I suppose you would have ‘helped him out’ with that too.”

            “Of course not! But he said his wife would get jealous. He wanted to spare her feelings.”

            Of all the excuses she expected to hear, this one was the most transparent. “Oh, Grady!” she sighed, looking towards the heavens.

            “I thought I owed him that much,” Grady said sullenly, “considering everything he’s done for me.”

            “But what exactly has Garrett done for you, besides giving you a free room in his wife’s hotel?” Jessica demanded.

            Now Grady grew defensive. “Oh, come on, that’s not fair! He’ was very supportive when we found Sandra’s body.”

            Jessica looked at him in astonishment. “He was with you when you found Sandra’s body?”

            “Well, not with me, exactly,” he admitted, acutely aware that he’d just thrown gasoline on the flames. “He was sort of in the other room.”

            “Sort of in the other room,” Jessica repeated, frustration evident in her tone.

            “After I found Sandra’s body I heard this noise in the living room, and when I looked up I saw Gary run out the door,” Grady explained, the truth spilling out at last.

            “For pity’s sake!” Jessica exclaimed.  “And you didn’t tell the police?”

            “No,” he admitted. “He said he came in after me and when he saw Sandra’s body he ran off to get help!”

            “And you believed him?”

            “Yes! I did at the time.” The whole situation didn’t look nearly as straightforward now as it had then, now that she was forcing him to review it through a lens as clear as crystal, and just as hard. “Look …”

            Jessica’s patience was gone, and her temper gone with it. “No, you look, Grady!” she told him, coming toward him so he couldn’t avoid looking at her. “Take a good, hard look! Now, its one thing to be a loyal friend, but it is another to let that loyal friend use you!”

            “No!” Grady protested. “You’ve got him all wrong.”

            Jessica refused to back down. “Look, Grady, there’s a real possibility that Gary Harper is the killer!”

            Grady flinched at her blunt words. “Oh, come on! That’s crazy!”

            “Don’t tell me it hasn’t entered your mind!” she retorted. “You’re much too smart to accept that man at face value, particularly the face I’ve been seeing!”

            Except that accept Gary at face value was exactly what he had done. Deep down Grady knew he had been a fool, or worse, a pawn, but overwhelmed as he was feeling right now, it was too much for him to face up to. “I’m going to take a walk or something,” he said, heading for the door of the suite. “I’ll see you later.”

            “Grady!” Jessica said. “You have to go to the police!”

            “I’ll be back in awhile,” was all he said, and left.

            Distraught, Jessica simply watched him go. As soon as the door closed behind him she flung herself down into one of the suite’s armchairs, only to stand right back up a moment later to pace the room.  Sometimes Grady was so naïve that he drove her to distraction. This was one of those times, made all the worse by the fact that in order to secure his release she’d had to justify herself to that pompous, arrogant jackass Matheney.

            She continued to pace, rubbing her temples where a tension headache threatened to erupt. Grady’s actions had introduced needless complications into this case, further muddying the waters that were already unclear. That was something she didn’t need.

            Jessica paused, closed her eyes, and blew a stream of air up through her bangs, trying to consciously expel some of her pent-up frustration with it. As the heat of her anger receded, she became increasingly aware of an ice-cold tendril of anxiety uncoiling deep within her. It wasn’t that she thought Grady was in any real danger of being officially charged with Sandra’s death – the hotel detective may have caught Grady in Sandra’s room retrieving the bracelet from the dead woman’s dressing gown, but the fact remained that her nephew had no discernible motive, and without that, a case against him would go nowhere. No, the fear she felt now was of a more fundamental sort, the worry that Grady’s shortcomings might be the result of her own inadequacies as a parent.

            She sank back down into her chair and tried to look at the question objectively. She let her mind journey back to the past, back to the days when Grady was a child and she and Frank suddenly found themselves parents despite having no children of their own. They had done their best to be the mother and father that their nephew had lost, but had it been enough? Jessica had always harbored a secret fear that no matter how hard she tried, she would never do as good a job rearing Grady as his natural mother would have. And maybe his idiotic actions today bore out that point.

            It was a depressing thought, one that sat heavily on her shoulders and bowed her head down into her hands.

            After several long moments of misery Jessica lifted her face and tried to take a more positive look at the situation. True, Grady could be naïve at times, but better naïve than cynical. A trait that she and Grady shared, it seemed, was a penchant for getting into trouble, yet despite his scrapes he had not become bitter, never lost his faith in the inherent good of the world. As for his unwavering loyalty to his friends … well, in any other situation besides this one such loyalty would be considered a strength, not a weakness.

            Feeling better, Jessica rose from her chair and went to the window, gazing down at the street below. Grady’s lapse in judgment was regrettable, maybe, but not grievously so. And she suspected that the stern talking-to would make him think twice before tampering with a crime scene on a friend’s behalf again, no matter how noble his intentions might be.

She sighed. Everything would be all right, in the end. She was sure of it: her instinct as a mother told her so.


            Jessica and Grady reunited in time for dinner that evening. They sat in the hotel's nightclub waiting for Gary and Cornelia to arrive without speaking, but it was a comfortable silence, very different from the tension-filled silence they had experienced earlier in the taxi.

It was Grady who spoke first. “Um, listen, Aunt Jess, about before, up in the room,” he began awkwardly. “I'm sorry.  I just shot off my mouth, and …”

            Jessica smiled and laid her hand on his.

            “Look, Grady,” she said, love warming her words, “the day you and I can't have a good, old-fashioned argument, I'm going to start wondering where I went wrong!”

            “Right.”  Grady smiled and met her eyes, and all was forgiven.