Eric was surprised that Tommy’s Mom had come too, but he hastened to greet her politely, and ensure that she was seated comfortably, and then asked her if she cared for refreshments. He could tell that the old lady was somewhat surprised at being treated so nicely, but he made sure to conceal his amusement – it wouldn’t have been polite to do otherwise.
Vincent seemed a little over-awed by the woman, or perhaps afraid. Whatever the reason, he was clearly having trouble getting to the point and asking her about Delores. Eric decided to take over for him.
“So, Mrs.Carter,” he began, “Tommy tells us that you knew Delores Nash?”
“That’s right,” she said. “It’s a terrible thing, what happened.”
“It is,” agreed Eric. “Did Tommy tell you why we wanted to know more about Mrs, Nash?”
“Yes, he did. And I want you to know that I’ve heard about you, Eric Boucher. And I don’t believe any of your paranoid nonsense.”
“Okay,” said Eric. “I suppose we can agree to disagree about that. But if that’s what you think of me, why did you come?”
“Because as wrong-headed as you may be, you three misfits are the only people who seem to care about getting justice for Delores.”
“The cops certainly don’t,” agreed Eric. Mrs. Carter began to cry.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Carter. Sometimes I speak without thinking,” said Eric.
“No, no, it’s not that,” she said. “It’s just- I hear all the things that Tommy and the rest of you kids say about the police, and I just tell myself that you’ll all grow out of it one day. But something like this happens, and it makes me wonder if you weren’t right all this time. They really don’t care, but they were happy enough to accept free coffees from her the day before she was killed and every day before that.”
No one said anything for a few minutes. No one knew what to say, thought Eric, Tommy least of all. He was staring at his mother in gap-mouthed astonishment. Everyone has hidden depths, buddy, thought Eric.
It was Jim who finally broke the silence.
“So, you knew Delores before she opened the store?” he asked.
“Yes, we worked together during the war. Afterwards, she married a GI from some small town in Iowa, and he moved out here. When he retired from the army in 1962, they opened the store together.”
“Yeah, I think I remember him from when I first came here,” said Jim. “John, wasn’t it?”
“That’s right. John Nash. He was a fine figure of a man when we met him.”
“He wasn’t in bad shape then, and he must have been pushing sixty or so. I remember thinking that he looked like an old weight lifter the first time I saw him. He was a very muscle-bound man for a guy his age.”
“And that all came from after war. He was a beanpole when we first met him, but his family ran to fat, he said. He used to spend hours working out – he always said he was trying to keep ahead of it,” she said, and smiled fondly at the memory.
“He, uh, passed away a few years ago, didn’t he?” asked Vincent. Mrs. Carter nodded.
“Heart attack in ’74.”
“I suppose that ran in his family too?” asked Eric.
“No,” she said. “I remember asking his brother about that at the funeral, and he said that John was the only Nash to have a heart attack since before the Civil War. And there was no history of that on his mother’s side, either.” She hesitated, then asked: “Is any of this helping?” Eric, Vincent and Jim exchanged somewhat sheepish glances.
“It is, yeah,” said Eric. “Every little detail helps to build a picture, and suggests more places to look for other details. It’s a very slow process,” he added apologetically. Mrs, Carter patted him on the knee.
“I’m sure it is, but I think I can trust you boys to see it through.”
“Yes ma’am,” they chorused. We sound like obedient schoolboys, Eric thought, and the look on Jim’s face suggested that he was thinking the same.