The Secret Thief

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Chapter 26

Violet

Somewhere between Marco leaving my room that day and his exiting the house, while I was adrift in a blind love blizzard, Margaret informed Marco that the next time he visited, it would be for a formal family dinner.

She knew. I don’t know if she actually eaves dropped or just figured things out by the stupid looks on our faces when she came to check in, but Margaret knew things had changed. I wouldn’t say she was upset about it, but she was not totally excited either. For her there was a big difference between “Marco the trainer” being in my room and “Marco the boyfriend” and it was a difference she wouldn’t be OK with until she knew him better.

So exactly four day after he left, Marco was back at my house. Only this time instead of being there to kiss me, his mission was to woo my step mother.

The first twenty minutes were brutal, full of prosaic conversation and avoided eye contact. It got to the point where every time either of them asked the other a question I held my breath. I thought I was going to faint. Finally, Margaret had a glass of wine and the atmosphere lightened. We weren’t rolling on the floor laughing or anything but the sensation that death was near, lifted.

“Relax.” I whispered to Marco as we followed Margaret to the dining room. “She’s not going to eat you.”

“You have proof of this?” He replied.

Margaret wasn’t any better. In the kitchen, helping her carry food out I begged her to loosen up.

“What are you talking about?” She looked genuinely stunned. “If this dinner were any more relaxed I’d have to serve pillows.”

They were hopeless.

“So Marco,” Margaret said passing a platter of sliced meat across the table. “What do you miss most about New York?” I nudged her under the table and she forced a smiled. Miss congeniality.

“Hmm.” Marco thought it over. “Not counting friends and family, I guess I’d have to say the deli across the street from the dojo. They had the best roast beef on the planet.” That time it was my boyfriend receiving an under the table kick. He looked at me and I nodded towards the platter. “Of course I hadn’t had the pleasure of your cooking back then.” He corrected, too late. Margaret’s smile looked painful.

“How nice.” She said. “Violet would you…”

“Did you hear that?” Marco twisted around in search of something.

“Would I what?” I asked Margaret.

“Would…” Her voice sounded funny, like she had drunk more than the one glass of wine I saw. Marco was getting up.

“Where are you going?” I asked, him, only looking at him briefly. Margaret’s face had lost color. I tapped her hand. “Hey, are you OK?”

“Vi…” Margaret rolled her hand, knocking her wine glass over the edge of the table. It hit the floor and shattered.

“Margaret?” I grabbed her hand before it fell over the edge too. It was cool and Margaret seemed to be struggling to keep her eyes open. “Margaret!” I shouted. She didn’t respond. She lost that battle for consciousness. Her lids fell then her body slumped forward, dead weight on the table.

“Marco!” I screamed and flew out of my chair but Marco had her before I’d made it to standing. He lifted Margaret off the chair and set her down on the floor. Then, without giving my step mother another thought, he grabbed my hand and yanked me down beside him.

“Is she breathing?” I cried. Marco wasn’t looking at Margaret he was studying my pupils.

“Did you eat anything?” He asked.

“What? Marco we have to help my mother!”

“Did you eat anything?” he repeated, clutching my arm so tight it hurt.

“No! What’s wrong with you?” Marco didn’t answer. He let me go as quickly as he had seized me and checked Margaret for a pulse.

“She’s alive.” He said turning her on her side. He cleared her mouth of the last bite it had taken then rolled her back and peeled up one of her eye lids. I felt weak.

“I’m calling an ambulance” I said, my voice cracking. I tried to stand but Marco stopped me.

“No.” He instructed. “Stay here and stay down.” He moved past on his knees, grabbed the house phone and tossed it too me.

“What happened to her?” I said, fumbling to dial emergency. Marco crawled back and was inspecting my mothers face and neck. He rolled her on her side again and pulled her hair back, then he stopped. With my mother still in his hand he looked up and out. His eyes kept darting between the back of Margaret’s chair and the kitchen. Then, as fast as he’d caught her he dropped her. Margaret slumped back, her shoulder hitting the floor hard.

“Marco!” I cried. He ignored me. He hopped up to a squat so low his head was below the level of the table. Then Marco waddled to the kitchen, slid up the wall and with his quick as lightning speed, shot a glance out the window.

“It’s clear.” He said.

“911 emergency, how can I help you?” The phone in my hands spoke. I hadn’t realized I had finished dialing.

“What’s clear?” I stared at Marco. He didn’t answer. Instead he crawled to the back door and cracked it open. “Wait! Where are you going?” I cried. Marco put a finger to his lips. Then he pointed to the phone in my hand.

“Police” He mouthed and slipped out the door.

“Marco!” I shrieked.

“911 EMERGENCY.” In my hand the emergency operator anxiously repeated herself. “Is anyone there?” I dropped the phone and hurried back to Margaret.

How could Marco leave us?

I brushed Margaret’s hair away from her face. She was breathing but she was completely out. What had happened? With Marco out of the picture fear crept in. I lifted Margaret’s head and scooted under it.

Cradling her in my lap I stroked her hair and whispered, “Wake up, please wake up.” I tugged at her arm so I could bring her hand to mine. “Please don’t leave me!” I begged, clutching her hand. In the distance I could hear the operator, desperate to make contact. I stretched until I could just reach the phone.

“I need help.” I sobbed.

“I’m here. Can you describe the situation?”

“We were eating dinner and she just fell over.”

“Ma’am? Can you tell me your name? And who fell over?”

“I’m Violet.” I choked out. “It’s my mother. She’s unconscious.”

“OK, Violet, we have emergency vehicles on the way.” She said in a soothing voice. At least one of us was feeling better. “Can you tell if your mother is breathing?”

“Yes.” I said. “She looks fine, It’s like she’s sleeping but she won’t wake up.”

“Stay calm. I’m here to help you.” The operator paused then asked, “does your mother have any medical conditions that might cause a sudden collapse?”

“What? No, no she’s healthy. There’s no reason for this to happen.” Having someone to talk to eased the panic. I started to calm knowing I wasn’t alone.

It was also a stark reminder that Marco was gone. He had abandoned me right when I needed him most. I tucked the phone under my ear so that I could pull Margaret closer.

I wouldn’t leave her.

I wrapped my arms around her shoulders, wanting to hold her. Squeezing her in an awkward embrace, something sharp stab me in the thigh. I pulled back. Scooting out from under her again I sat next to her and pulled her over as far as I could and gasped. There was a needle in her shoulder blade. No not a needle. Sticking out of Margaret’s back was tiny pink dart.

“Hurry.” I told the operator. “I think my mother’s been poisoned.”

Marco returned right as the paramedics wheeled Margaret out of the house. She was still unconscious, but stable.

“Where the hell did you go?” I jumped on him, furious.

“Violet I,” He began but I could see he barely noticed me. He was scanning the yard, eyeballing all the emergency workers.

“Miss, are you coming with us?” The paramedic in charge of my mother interrupted. I nodded. He offered me a hand into the ambulance and when I took it Marco snapped out of his trance.

“Wait!” He clamped a hand on the door before it shut in his face.

“Marco stop it!” I screamed. “Margaret needs help!”

“Sir I’m going to have to ask you to step away.” The paramedic told him in a rational voice. “This is an emergency.” Marco released his grip. His eyes were wide with concern. I turned away, so mad I couldn’t look at him.

“I’ll follow you.” He promised. I said nothing and the doors slammed shut.

As we drove away I watched him through the small window in the back of the ambulance. I hoped he would watch us leave, or at the very least jump into his car and follow like he said, but he did neither. As soon as the ambulance started rolling Marco, my boyfriend, the one who said he loved me, walked away.

With tears in my eyes I watch Marco. By our front door a policeman stood writing in his note pad. Marco approached. They exchanged a few words then the policeman stepped aside. Next, without any indication the situation was as desperate as I felt it was, Marco walked back into my house. We weren’t even out of the neighborhood yet.

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