Chintz and Dirndle made Crockpot lasagna together and waited for Mom and Dad to get to Chintz’s house. While they waited, they made a Shepherd’s pie for Mom to take to Craig when she visited him. As Chintz sealed the foil container with more foil, she said, “I’m sure lots of people from his church are bringing him dishes, too. He’ll probably end up with more than he can eat, but he can freeze this for later, if he wants to.”
Callum and Stuart walked into the kitchen together after they each got off work. Dirndle was making a Caesar salad and Chintz was filling wide glasses with chocolate mousse. Callum motioned for Stuart to help him, and they prepared two loaves of garlic bread.
By the time Mom and Dad walked through the garage door and into the kitchen, the house smelled like tomato sauce, garlic, and melted cheeses. Dad took a deep breath. “I’m starving. We didn’t even get a snack on the plane.”
Mom forced a smile, but her face was drawn, her eyes puffy. She was as stylish as ever, wearing a long, flowing skirt with a matching scarf tied loosely around her neck—both made from her own fabric design--but the corners of her mouth and eyes looked strained. “Let’s eat first and talk about Eloise over after-dinner coffee.”
A good game plan. This time, Chintz had set the long trestle table between the kitchen and living room, and they ate there. Mom didn’t like sitting on bar stools. For how gloomy the atmosphere was, everyone was hungry and put a serious dent in the food.
Finally, when Chintz and Callum had cleared the table and poured last cups of coffee, Mom took a deep breath. “Tell us what happened.”
Callum went over Eloise’s murder for them.
Mom’s expression turned hard. “Whoever killed her had some private, selfish reason. It didn’t have anything to do with something Eloise had done. She was unfailingly nice to everyone she met.”
“Do you have any suspects in mind?” Dad asked.
Callum explained about all four people on the “possible” list identifying Anita.
“But Anita was in New York when the murder took place,” Chintz hurried to add. By the look on her mom’s face, Chintz worried she’d hire an assassin to take Anita out before they could prove she was guilty.
“Are you going over to see Craig soon?” Dirndle asked. “Chintz and I made another casserole for him.”
“His favorite meal is meatloaf,” Mom said. “Since we’re staying in your guestroom until after the funeral, I thought we could cook together and make that and scalloped potatoes for him tomorrow.”
“What about me?” Dad asked.
Mom huffed. “We’ll make double so you can have some, too.”
Before Callum or Stuart could ask, Chintz said, “There’ll be plenty for all of us. If you want to eat here again tomorrow, too, you’re welcome, Stuart.” She, Mom, and Dirndle always enjoyed cooking together, and it would take their minds off Eloise if they stayed busy.
Stuart glanced at Dirndle, who nodded. She explained, “Mom and Dad will drive back to the lake after the funeral, and we won’t see them as often.”
“Have you talked to Craig yet?” Chintz asked.
Mom nodded. “I phoned him. His daughter’s staying with him, and his brother flew in for a week, too. Craig said his brother’s trying to talk him into selling his house and moving to Arizona near him. The poor man lost his wife to cancer three years ago. He said they could meet for suppers and be company for each other if Craig lived closer.”
Dirndle poured herself another cup of coffee and when Stuart nodded, she poured him a cup, too. “Is Craig thinking of taking him up on that?”
“He said his daughter’s encouraging him to go for it. She said a fresh start somewhere brand new might be nice. She hinted that if he lived in Arizona, she’d visit him more often during the winter months.”
Callum smiled. “Chicago’s damn cold in January and February.”
Chintz pursed her lips, thinking. “Who’s going to run Eloise’s shop now? She was so proud of it. I’d hate to see it close its doors.”
“Her younger daughter graduated from college in the spring,” Mom said. “She’s going to run it. She has a business degree, and Eloise’s assistant agreed to stay on. They’ll be good at it.”
Dad glanced at Mom and gave her “the look.” Chintz and Dirndle always teased them that when Dad was ready to leave, he wasn’t all that subtle about it.
“Ready to visit Craig?” Mom asked.
“No, I’m not looking forward to it, but we need to. And I’d rather do it now than later. We’ve had a long day.”
Mom nodded and they stood to leave. “We’ll see you later tonight,” she told Chintz. “Don’t go to any bother for us. No need to fix us breakfast. We can grab cereal.”
A silly statement. If Chintz could cook for everyone else who came to their house, she sure as hell could fuss over her parents.
Dirndle and Stuart rose to go, too.
“I’ll try to get here after lunch,” Dirndle told her. “I have some paperwork I have to get done in the morning.”
Once they were alone, Callum reached for her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “How are you hanging in there?”
“Having people underfoot helps. It keeps me busy thinking about other things.” She stood and started clearing the rest of the dishes.
Callum helped her, and in no time, they had the dishwasher loaded and everything put away. “What are you making for breakfast tomorrow?” he asked. “Need some help getting it ready?”
“Sure, I thought I’d make a French toast overnight casserole and a fresh fruit salad. I can put you on fruit slicing duty.”
He pretended to roll up his sleeves. “Callum Calhoun, reporting for duty!”
She laughed and spread fruit on the island for him to chop while she got busy on the casserole. They’d finished and were watching TV to distract themselves when Mom and Dad returned.
Her parents looked tired. She and Callum were wiped out. They decided on an early night, and everyone went to their rooms to relax and eventually sleep.