Luckily I had done laundry recently. I pulled on some clean black denims and from the back of the closet, I pulled out a remnant of my previous life: a cashmere sweater in a shade of cobalt that always made me think of bluebirds and springtime. I brushed my teeth, swiped a comb through my hair, added a little powder, mascara and lipstick, and my fifteen minutes were up. I stepped inside my new shoes, threw on my coat and scarf, and headed out.
If I had run into Father Cash on the steps, I would've considered it only my just desserts for being so confident last night that I had no feelings for Cade. But the good priest didn't make an appearance, Cade was patiently reading a newspaper at the corner store, and just like that, we were off across town in his old pickup.
"How long have you been in Cold Haven?" he asked, by way of conversation, as we navigated what passed for evening rush hour.
"About a year," I said. "I plan to leave as soon as I can."
"It's not for everyone, that's for sure."
"Not for anyone, more like." I adjusted the heater vent nearest me so that it would warm my hands.
"You meet an interesting cross-section of people here, though. Seems like everybody is from someplace else."
"That's true," I agreed, but it's less like the American Dream than what the cat dragged in. Present company excluded, of course."
Cade grinned. "No need to reassure me on that point. There've been days I wondered if I was the only person in town who wasn't wanted for something back home."
"It's not as extreme as all that," I said, not liking the drift of the conversation. "I think a lot of people who come here are just disappointed with life."
"Well, this place sure won't cure that. Not unless you approach it with the right attitude, at any rate."
By now we were on the east side of town, which wasn't exactly richer than the west, but had a decidedly more genteel cast to it. Instead of somber gray concrete and weathered clapboards, the buildings were of red brick or tidy shingles. Shops and apartment buildings had clean windows and sometimes a bit of rock art or wooden sculpture for landscaping. Shady characters didn't lurk in doorways or on corners, and although drug and alcohol abuse were no less rampant here than in my own neighborhood, this was not a place where you advertised your vices.
Cade navigated a few narrow streets, then pulled up to the curb and killed the engine. "It's up the block," he said. "They're too small to have their own parking lot."
I shrugged. "I never mind a little bit of walking."
The bricks of the building housing Luigi's Pastaria were faded and buffeted by age, and on the inside, the dark hardwood floors had been rasped and polished, but still showed the faint marks of many decades of use. But the narrow dining room was redolent of the warm aroma of garlic and had been furnished for modest charm in unoriginal but tidy square tables covered with red-checked tablecloths. Candles in glass jars flickered at each table, and the framed posters on the walls depicted scenes of Rome and the greats of Italian opera. It was the type of place I would've rolled my eyes at in my previous life, but now I found the clichéd decor oddly comforting.
Since there was no hostess to seat us, we took a table underneath a photo of a bellowing Pavarotti and examined the menu cards tucked into a little wire holder. As Cade had cautioned, the offerings were limited, but it was all so much more than what I was in the habit of eating that my stomach growled at the prospect of even a single slice of garlic bread.
"I've been here a couple times for their lunch specials," Cade said. "The spaghetti, lasagna and ravioli are all pretty good."
What caught my eye was the chicken scaloppini, but it was one of the more expensive dishes, so that wouldn't do. Neither would the spaghetti, since ordering the cheapest item might imply that I doubted Cade's ability to pay. So when the waitress came by, I ordered ravioli and a Coke.
"You sure about that Coke?" Cade asked. He ordered a carafe of Chianti.
"I hope you're not trying to get me drunk," I teased after the waitress left.
He shook his head. "I just think dinner should include an adult beverage."
I had no argument with that. The wine arrived quickly, along with a basket of garlic bread and cups of minestrone soup, so that by the time our entrees were served, I was feeling warm and relaxed.
As promised, the food was quite good, or maybe it had simply been so long since I had eaten an average meal that almost anything would have tasted like gourmet cuisine. Regardless, I was thoroughly enjoying my dinner and the company when Cade brought me up short.
"Tell me about Father Cash."
I stared at him over a mouthful of garlic bread, and reached for my napkin so I could wipe my chin. "I told you pretty much all I know at the funeral, I think."
"I mean, how's he doing? Has he had any luck reaching Sella's mother?"
I shook my head and reached for my wine. "He says he's been trying, and that it's not like Lena to go incommunicado, but I have to wonder how hard he's really looking. I mean, I offered to go to the library and do an internet search, but he blew me off. If he was really serious..."
Cade nodded. "He'd try anything. I know I would, if it was my sister."
"He thinks there's some sort of conspiracy going on and that Sella's death wasn't an accident."
"Really?" he leaned back, startled. "It looked like an ordinary suicide to me, and I've seen a few."
I shrugged. "I've tried to reassure him, but I think it's his Catholic guilt getting in the way. Suicide is a sin, you know."
"So is fornication, but from what you've told me, I don't have the impression the good father is terribly worried about that one."
"Say enough Hail Marys, and I'm sure it will all get taken care of. But if you're dead, that option is off the table." I returned my attention to my ravioli.
"I guess I can see that." Cade frowned. "Didn't Catholics use to pass off suicide as mental illness, so they could say the person didn't die a sinner?"
"I tried suggesting that, but it didn't go over well. He's pretty married to the idea that it was foul play, and that Sella's mother was a victim of it, too."
"People don't get murdered for no reason." Cade pointed out. He ate the last bite of his lasagna and pushed the plate aside. "Were they involved in drugs or something?"
"Not that I know of."
I thought about Sella's cryptic diary entry. "That's always a possibility, but nothing I've seen so far has me convinced."
Cade leaned forward. "Sounds like you know more than what you're telling."
I finished my ravioli and reached for my glass of wine. I took a good long sip before answering. "Not really, and why are you so curious?"
He looked away. "It sucks to pull a dead girl out of the water. It's the sort of thing you want to attach a meaning to, even if there probably isn't one."
I nodded. Without intending to, he had described Father Cash's dilemma. "That's probably why it's easier for her uncle to call it murder than admit that she wanted to die, and nothing he could do made any difference."
"He thinks he failed as both a priest and as an uncle."
"Maybe in his own mind," I said. "But failing at playing Sherlock Holmes isn't going improve matters."
"Agreed." Cade signaled to the waitress. "Tirimisu and coffee?"
"Where would I put it?" I asked. "I'm so full I could burst."
Cade asked for the check and after he had given the waitress his credit card, he turned back to me. "What if he's on to something, though? Father Cash, I mean."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "Are you serious? You said yourself that it looked like an ordinary suicide."
"Yes, but..." he shrugged, "What if it's not?"
"If it's not, then the cops need to handle it," I said.
"No point looking for trouble," he agreed, and I couldn't tell if he meant it or not. The waitress brought the credit card slip and although I tried not to look, I couldn't help noticing that he tipped generously.
"We all need to earn a living," he said, noticing where my gaze had drifted.
Indeed we did, and I cast a furtive glance at my watch. Although we had been out longer than I had planned, there was still plenty of time to hunt down Arlo or Crazy Eddie and see if I could make a buck or two.
"I assume you don't want me to take you home," Cade said as we left the restaurant. "The store, then?"
I had been wondering throughout the meal if he was going to try to leverage dinner into something more, even though nothing in what I had seen so far suggested he was that type. I was surprised to feel a little sad, though, when he obediently let me out in front of Lucky's without so much as an attempt at a kiss, and just a cheerful, "Thanks for the company."
"I enjoyed it," I said, and I meant it.
"We should do it again sometime."
"We will," I promised. "I'll call."
He smiled like he wasn't sure if he should believe me or not. "You have my number."