“The underworld,” Jen said. “You’ve got a key or what? How do we get there?”
“A portal. More of them than you’d think. There’s one in my basement. Hidden. Basic. You’ll see.”
It’s a long drive in a lot of ways from Jen’s neighborhood to mine. She must have had questions but kept them to herself. She stared at the road.
I hoped Doris wasn’t home. She had her book group, an eccentric bunch of gals. Don’t mention Oprah in their presence. Forget about uplifting. They tilted more toward murder and mayhem. Jo Nesbo. Henning Mankell. Nordic noir.
The sun had already set. Lights were on in the houses we passed. Same with our place when I pulled up in the driveway. Doris watched from the window as I ushered Jen toward the door. Doris was already in her coat with a book clutched in her hand.
I introduced her to Jen. They did a quick head-to-toe on each other, made the usual calculations.
How much could Doris know at a glance? More than I could imagine, that was what I assumed. Previously she had no reason to doubt my devotion, my faithfulness. But now? I felt like an antenna broadcasting guilt. How could she not know?
“Something to drink?” Doris offered. “Wine? Coffee? I’ve got to go but I can get you something.”
“Go ahead, baby. We got a little business.”
“Business?” Doris said. If you didn’t know her this sounded innocent. Doris lives in the territory between trust and suspicion. She wants to believe but it also offends her nature.
“About my husband,” Jen said quickly, before I had a chance to dig a hole for myself. “Leo. Leo Litely. Maybe you’ve heard of him.”
“Leo. Duke Black’s friend. Friend. Maybe that’s a little strong. They were on the Institute board. We met at a gala or two, back when Duke and I…”
“You and Duke were…”
“Who wasn’t Duke…”
“Leo was old then. He’s still alive?”
“To an extent.”
“Should be. But no, he won’t hear of it.”
“And Charles is…?”
“This will come as a surprise. Their association being so tangential. Leo and Charles met years ago. Institute gala. Inconsequential chatter, I thought at the time. Who understands the whys and wherefores? But Charles made an impression on my Leo. My hope is now that I can persuade Charles to undertake some research. Assisted living. Nursing care. What have you. And discuss them with Leo while he’s still more or less in his right mind.”
“I had no idea,” said Doris.
“What isn’t mysterious in the end?” Jen said.
Too easy. I should have known. Doris flashed her book at Jen, said, “Sorry. Have to run. Book group.”
“We won’t be long,” Jen said. “A few details.”
“Business,” I said with a shrug. “Hurry home.”
I gave Doris a minute to get down the street.
Then I opened the basement door.
Tomorrow: It’s not the Ritz