Hope Mamba was not a fan of public transportation. Oh, she understood the need to conserve fuel. She remembered sitting with her parents in their Ford Galaxy waiting for their turn to buy gas on an “even” day.
She wasn’t sure why that particular memory was as vivid as it was. It’s probably because I didn’t get any ice cream. The wait in line was so long that the ice cream store was closed by the time we got there.
She sighed and looked down at the mystery novel that lay open on her lap. Death of a Gossip by M.C. Beaton adorned the cover along with the picture of a fishing lure dangling from an unseen pole somewhere above the top edge of the book. Hamish Macbeth was the Scottish police officer in charge of the investigation. The book was well-written. Since she and her husband, Phil, had visited England only nine months earlier, the descriptions of the quaint Scottish town reminded her of the Lake District.
Today, the ride to the office of Mamba Investigations was taking far too long. The office housed her husband’s business. It was her place of employment as well. I wish I had my car.
Her car was in the shop because of a warning light on the dashboard, a light she’d ignored. She had no idea when light began glowing amber. That frustrated Phil.
All had been fine until he’d taken her car to the grocery to get some Pedialyte® for their son, Jimmy. He’d been running from both ends all day and needed hydration. Since it was a Saturday, Phil agreed to stay with Jimmy the entire afternoon while she went to the mall with two girlfriends.
She’d pulled into their driveway after shopping. Phil had greeted her at the door.
“Hi, sweetie,” he said and gave her a kiss. “Jimmy’s sleeping. I’m taking your car—because it’s blocking the garage door—and running down Thrifty Drugs. I think he can keep fluid down now, and we’re out of that Pedi-something his doctor recommends.
“Pedialyte,” Hope finished the name of the liquid. “Get a half-gallon of double chocolate malted crunch ice cream, too.”
“I knew I married you for more than your spectacularly good looks,” Phil grinned and patted her bottom as he passed by.
Double chocolate malted crunch was her husband’s favorite ice cream, bar none. She liked it mostly because it was chocolate ice cream with chocolate swirls. The Whoppers infusing the confection were okay. But the double chocolate, that was to die for. Besides, she’d heard that chocolate was an aphrodisiac, and she was ready, willing, and able to have another child.
Phil returned from his shopping trip. She heard the front door and turned from watching Facts of Life.
“How long’s the warning light been on?” Phil asked without preamble.
“Ummm . . .” was the best she could do.
He lectured her on the reason cars have warning lights. It was something about people never understanding the gauges in older cars. However, his conclusion was cut short by Jimmy’s appearance at the top of the stairs.
Phil dropped her car off early Monday morning and rode the dealer’s shuttle home. He transferred from the shuttle to his car and drove to work. She’d been riding the bus since then.
Hope exited the bus two blocks from Mamba Investigations. She strolled along the sidewalk, giving cursory glances to various window displays before arriving at the office.
She was proud of her husband, his work, and his office. She smiled a devilish smile as she finished her list of prideful things with, I’m very proud of the logo that adorns the front window.
She had to admit that the idea for the logo on the window was Phil’s. But, the logo itself was all hers.
She’d met Phil while he was still a detective with the Manzanita Police. He’d been investigating the death of her first husband, Walter Tanner. It had not been love at first sight. She remembered one of their conversations during that investigation.
“It appears that the killer and Mr. Tanner probably had martinis or some other drink of that alcohol concentration. We found two rinsed glasses in the sink during the original investigation,” Phil said.
“My money’s on bourbon, neat,” I said, correcting his assumption. “Walter isn’t much of a gin drinker.”
“I saw both in the cabinet in the kitchen and took a shot. In retrospect, the glasses should have given the nod to the bourbon,” he admitted.
“I forgive you. But don’t let it happen again.” I’d almost regretted that comment, but he’d been less than sympathetic at times.
Phil shot me a quick look.
I smiled back with feigned innocence.
He snorted a laugh.
“Are we even now?” he asked.
“Close enough. Please continue,” I said as sweetly as I could without laughing at the farce we were playing.
“I speculate that the killer pretended to leave. Then, while Mr. Tanner went into the kitchen to begin the dinner preparations. He waited…”
“Or she,” I corrected.
He grimaced. I thought that was turnabout.
“Can we assume, since English is deficient in gender-neutral pronouns, that when I use the pronoun he, it refers to a killer of either sex?”
That time I smiled demurely and gave a short nod. He returned a rakish grin.
A car horn on Pierpoint Avenue behind her brought her back to reality. She moved to her left until she could see herself in the office window. After the first glance in the window, she pushed an errant strand of hair back in place, smoothed her blouse where it had wrinkled while bus riding and frowned at the bulge that showed just a bit as she straightened the waistband of her slacks.
As satisfied as she could be with her appearance, she unlocked the front door, stepped inside, and flipped on the lights. Her desk was the focal point of the reception area. She’d decided on that design element when she first began working for him. Working for him had been her idea, too.
At first it had been good mental therapy. But I actually enjoyed the work of coordinating the loose ends for a private detective—and there were plenty of loose ends to coordinate.
But, in retrospect, she realized that there was more to her offer than the work. She remembered the night something clicked into place for her.
My thoughts that evening centered on my feelings toward Phil. They were feelings I was certain that new widows, especially pregnant new widows, should not have been feeling about any man.
And, of course, another part of my thoughts had been on what his feelings were towards me.
She sat down at her desk. In turn, she picked up one of two framed photographs. It was the traditional husband and wife photo from their wedding. She rubbed the scar on her left leg as she remembered what had happened on a day months before that photo. It was a day that was far from the happiest of her life.
I’d unlocked the door to the old office. That was unusual, except on Tuesdays. On Tuesdays, for unknown reasons, Phil tended toward tardiness. So, it had to be a Tuesday.
I’m certain that my anger flashed when I spotted the chaos of clutter. Someone had broken in during the night. Papers, a couple of client waiting chairs, two potted plants, and many of my desktop items were strewn across the front office floor.
A small part of the motivation for robbery I understood. People felt like they needed money or something to survive. To this day, I can accept that as a motive for theft, even though the idea of stealing for any reason doesn’t fit anywhere in my system of morality.
Vandalism. I’ll never understand that.
I started toward the phone where it lay on the floor. After all, I had to call the police.
But, I stopped. I knew that if my very pregnant body didn’t get to the ladies room, and soon, there was going to be a definite personal problem. That’s another of the joys of pregnancy. I decided that the police call would be the second item on my agenda for the day.
I couldn’t have been more than three or four steps from my goal when the bomb went off.
A jagged chunk of wood exploded through the plate glass window dividing the inner and outer offices. That was what caught me in the upper thigh. The impact spun me around and to the ground.
“Not my baby!” I screamed as an intense ball of pain burned its way down my leg and up into my abdomen.
I remember how shards of glass from the plate glass window rained down upon me. That’s when I was knocked unconscious.
They tell me that the automatic sprinkler system in the office responded as programmed. Sprinkler heads in the ceiling rained water down on the rubble that cluttered the office floor, including my profusely bleeding body.
She shuddered at the horrific memory. Well, that’s enough of that for a while she decided and went over to the coffee maker. In spite of her intended resolve, another memory dripped into her consciousness as she watched the dark, caffeinated fluid drip into the decanter below the grounds.
After the explosion, she’d awakened in a panic, but unable to form coherent words. Finally, she’d managed to ask if her baby was all right.
“He’s fine. A bit earlier into the world than he might have been, but that’s not an issue with your son,” one nurse reported.
“May I h-ho-hold him?” is how I remember asking.
“Of course you can, but only for a minute. You still have a lot of recovering to do, Mrs. Tanner,” a second nurse added. “Right now, your son needs to get back to the nursery.”
I hated that nurse for those last words.
“It doesn’t hurt nearly as much now,” I told my son. I hugged him with my good arm and almost crushed him to my breast. Then, I guess I repeated to the second nurse, “Is he okay?”
“He’s just fine,” the first nurse reiterated. “He weighed in at a six pounds and eleven ounces. You were fortunate to be over eight months along.”
The two nurses started pushing my gurney toward the elevator.
“You can hold him until we get to your room,” the second nurse told me . . . like she was going to be able to pry him away from me.
I just got up to my room when the phone rang and the first nurse answered.
“It’s for you, if you’re up to it,” she told me. She waited. I wondered why she didn’t give me the phone. Then it dawned on me—I had only one functional arm at that moment. I was crying as she traded the phone for my baby.
“Hello,” I croaked.
“Hope? It’s Phil Mamba.”
“Oh, Phil. Y-y-you’re not h-hurt are you?”
“No, and don’t worry. I’m just down the hall. I wanted to check if you were up to seeing me now.”
“Please c-come!” I remember begging him.
“On my way,” he’d promised.
As Phil entered the room, I followed his every movement with my eyes. It hurt more than I can describe to turn my head, but I needed to see that man. I needed the very real reassurance that he was alive and well. I started crying as hard as I ever had in my life when he began moving to me.
“Hope!” was all he’d said as he gently touched my bandaged left arm.
“Oh, Ph-Ph-Phil, I’m so glad you’re not hurt,” I whispered to him.
The monotonal beep that signaled the end of the coffee’s brew time startled Hope back to the present. She shook her head. That was emotionally non-productive.
She smiled as she poured herself a cup of the coffee, added sugar and cream, and went back to her desk. It was time to get her official workday going.