Just as I reached the structure, still another indoor light flicked on. I moved toward it. The moth and the flame. The light shone through a kitchen window. I peeked above the sill. Large kitchen—white walls, counters, cabinets, appliances, and tile floor. Hester was standing at the center island, a brilliant blue flame surrounded by all that whiteness, her profile to me, removing silver earrings. Suddenly, a man appeared, darkness behind him—I have no idea where he came from. The man was dressed in pale green briefs and nothing more. He was tall and strong, muscles rippled as he moved. I ducked down. He didn’t see me, but then, he only had eyes for Hester.
The man came up behind her. She didn’t turn to look at him, didn’t acknowledge his presence at all until he wrapped his powerful arms around her, cupping her breasts through the silk of her dress. Hester arched her back and he kissed her neck as he slowly worked the dress up and off her. Her lace brassiere was the color of her dress and barely contained her. Her matching panties had less material than my handkerchief. He popped her breasts out of the cups and caressed them with one hand. With the other he firmly stroked the front of her panties. She turned in his arms and kissed him hard, opening her mouth to him. He held her tight, but not so tight that she couldn’t wriggle free and kiss his neck, his chest, his stomach, his waist. She lowered herself to the floor and, kneeling before him, hooked her fingers over the elastic of his briefs while he played with her hair. I could hear their sharp, erratic breathing through the closed window as the briefs came down. Or maybe it was my own breathing.
The yard lights behind me flicked off one by one. I couldn’t tell you how long they had been set for. Could’ve been ten minutes. Could’ve been three days. I had lost all track of time as I squatted at the windowsill. I felt considerably safer spying on Hester from the darkness, yet it also made me feel creepy. Time to leave, I decided. If I wanted to see more I could always surf the Internet. I turned my back to the window and dashed across the lawn, setting off the lights again as I made my way to the SUV. I doubted Hester and her friend noticed.
They buried Napoleon Cook in a hurry. Dead Friday night, in the ground Tuesday morning. Apparently, the Hennepin County ME didn’t see any reason to keep his remains, what was left of them after his twenty-seven-floor swan dive. I would have missed the funeral altogether if I hadn’t read the brief notice next to the story about Bruder’s murder—bless them, neither the Star-Tribune or Pioneer Press mentioned my name. I doubted the powers gave it to them. I wondered about that as I drove to the cemetery off Highway 36 in Minneapolis, across from the Francis A. Gross Golf Course.
Cook’s funeral, like most funerals I’ve attended, was a quiet, tedious affair attended by people who would rather have been somewhere else. There was a large crowd in attendance—Cook had considerably more friends than I had supposed—yet no one seemed to be genuinely grief-stricken over his demise. For the most part, the mourners were impassive, merely going through the motions, fulfilling an obligation. That included the Roman Catholic priest who officiated. True, he spoke impressively about Cook’s generosity and his concern for others. Still, it was obvious he had never actually met the man and didn’t feel any regret about putting him into the ground. The only time his words actually seemed to touch the crowd was when he mentioned that although circumstances forbade Cook from attending, the annual Northern Lights Entrepreneur’s Club Ball would proceed as scheduled and we could all rest assured that he would be there in spirit.
“It’s going to be one helluva party,” a mourner said to no one in particular.
The priest stood behind Cook’s coffin, which was carefully set on a platform in front of the grave. Behind him stood four of Cook’s pallbearers, each of them dressed in identical black suits and wearing white gloves. They stood soldier-fashion shoulder to shoulder like backup singers waiting for their cue. The other pallbearers and the rest of the mourners had fanned out in a semicircle around the graveside. Alone at one end of the arch stood the woman who had given Cook his last glimpse of Paradise. Despite her sunglasses and large floppy hat there was no mistaking Hester. She looked like a fashion model pushing funeral attire.
“Astonishing, isn’t she?” a voice said. The voice belonged to a woman, about five-foot-nothing with a small face, mostly eyes, and a pleasant mouth that smiled as if it had had a lot of practice. She had strawberry hair, a petite figure, short legs and, in keeping with the occasion, she wore black.
“A true freak of nature,” she added.
“The woman you’ve been staring at for the past five minutes?”
“She reminds me of someone I know.”
“Your kid sister, no doubt,” she said and giggled. The nearest mourners looked at her with barely disguised contempt. Imagine, laughing at a funeral?
“I’m Charlotte Belloti,” she announced.
The name was familiar, yet I couldn’t place it. She extended a gloved hand. I took it. Her grip was surprisingly firm.
“Don’t even think of calling me Charlie,” she said.
“The woman you’re staring at is Lila Casselman. She’s married. Not that she lets it interfere with her dating, if you’re interested. Rumor has it she was spending quality time with the dearly departed. Were you a friend of Napoleon’s?”