I carefully doubled back and hid in a door way across the street. Within twenty minutes, Edwin Spencer came out carrying a brown canister, the type which might hold a formal document. I started to discreetly follow him as he walked uptown. By the second crosswalk, he turned to me and said, “Young lady, aren’t you Gwen Donovan’s granddaughter? Are you following me?”
“Um, not exactly. I saw you at the cemetery at my grandmother’s burial and I wanted to talk with you.”
“You did? I apologize for not expressing my condolences then. Glancing at his watch, Spencer looked at me and asked, “Zoe, right?”
“I have about a half hour. How about a cup of coffee and a formal introduction?”
“I would like that.”
We walked to a lovely outdoor café across the street. Pouring coffee from a silver pot into fine china, Edwin explained to me, “Truthfully I thought it best that I didn’t speak to Gwen’s family at the funeral.”
“Gwen’s family never approved of me. You know once upon a time, long ago, we were quite the couple.”
“I just found that out.”
“Well then maybe you also are aware that just this year we reconnected over a very rare religious book.”
“The Gutenberg?” I couldn’t believe I asked him about the stolen treasure.
“No my dear, the police have already been to see me about that. Gwen and I never had a single conversation about the Gutenberg. But another religious text lies heavily on my mind. The Bay Psalter is being auctioned this weekend. Maybe Mr. Richardson mentioned it.”
I nodded as if I understood any of this.
“The antiquarian book market is buzzing about nothing else these last few days before the auction. Your grandmother had a keen interest in sacred text and was quite knowledgeable in that area, so recently I did call her with some questions about the genre. That led to some lovely dinners and intellectually charged conversations. We reconnected in a wonderful way.”
I just listened.
“I can’t find the words to express how sorry I am about what happened to Gwen. This last time, I hoped your grandmother and I could once again have a serious relationship.”
Spencer suddenly stopped. He must have seen the pain in my eyes. “But I have amazing memories. Even after all these years, I can still see your grandmother, at just about your age now, with that determined walk coming across campus with her red hair blowing in the wind. She was always passionate about some cause, especially women’s rights and the Viet Nam War. We were even engaged.”
“I know.” I was afraid to tell him Mere left me the ring. I don’t know why. I asked him, “How could my family disapprove of you?”
“They knew I would take their daughter from them, especially with my need to travel. Quite frankly I had no interest in humoring a family rooted in an inflexible church and a bar in Queens. Our relationship grew to a point where your grandmother had to make a choice between me or her family. Truthfully, she was so torn up by it that she couldn’t make a decision. So she went on alone. I still think she made a terrible mistake.”
“Really? I can’t imagine my grandmother not able to make a decision.”
“She couldn’t choose who she really wanted to become. Maybe a better explanation is she didn’t know who she already was.”
What was Spencer saying? I thought my grandmother understood people so well, yet Spencer claimed that Mere didn’t know herself?
“Wow, I said, “she always seemed so confident to me.”
“Gwen was intelligent and enthusiastic, but, when I knew her, Gwen was often afraid.”
“Afraid?” I said. “I can’t believe it. What was she afraid of?”
“Well, for one, she was afraid of having a child she didn’t want.”
“What are you talking about?”
“There is a murder investigation going on. Zoe, so let’s not pretend. At your age, your grandmother got pregnant with your father. Quite frankly she wasn’t sure who the father was. There were other people your grandmother was sexually involved with when I knew her.
“I don’t believe that.”
“Believe what you want. I know she had a romance with a local guy from the neighborhood. He was studying to be an engineer or something like that.”
“All I know is my father has no idea who his real father is.”
“Zoe, I find it ironic that after Gwendolyn s death, one of the pressing questions is who fathered her child. So often she told me that she did not ever want children. But she was chained to a family, a church, a society that made her feel guilty for admitting that.”
“She never told me any of this. Whenever kids were around, she enjoyed them. She loved us so much. You can’t imagine.”
“Zoe, I don’t have to imagine because she loved me once. I still remember. When she got pregnant, I suggested she terminate the pregnancy. I even offered to pay whether or not I was the father. As soon as I said abortion, she immediately told me she wouldn’t ever consider an abortion. Then she declared I definitely was not the father. Within minutes she finished the conversation and closed the door on us. I reached out to her many times after the baby- your father - was born, but she was done with me. I was heartbroken for a long time.”
“Because you still loved her?
“Zoe, we loved each other. We shared so much. We could have had an incredible life together. Over the years I ran into her and with each encounter, she kind of softened toward me. At first we talked mostly about books. But, gradually she included details about your father in the conversation.
“Did you discuss my dad’s biological father again?”
“No, but at our most recent dinner, I could feel that undeniable attraction between us. So I took a chance and said to her, “Gwen, we’re both running out of time. Let’s not screw this up twice. No chance of kids complicating things now.”
“What did she say?”
“She said she was involved with saving an important religious book and she couldn’t think of anything else. Then she was murdered.”
We kind of sat and stared at each other in a moment of silence.
“Well ,Zoe, I will be thinking of Gwen Sunday at the auction. I’m in hot pursuit of that now. Luckily there are still wealthy collectors who are intent on getting antiquarian books like the Bay Psalter. I must confess I’m addicted to the thrill of the chase and winning – beating out the other bibliophiles and wealthy speculators. Today the internet has taken away the edge a sophisticated and shrewd bidder often had. With a click of the button all of us have the market on the screen. I still do love to win. But your grandmother is one instance where I unfortunately lost. Now, I must get back to work and earn the money needed to pay for my rare book addiction.”
His charming demeanor melted into a curt business style. My head was spinning with the past and present as Edwin Spencer put me into a cab. As I rode along I thought an hour ago I was so sure Spencer was my grandfather. Now I didn’t know.