The long marble counter looked too fancy for the Sweet Happies crackling agreeably in their milk bath. Quentin had waited five minutes before making breakfast. Two mouthfuls killed his appetite, but he remained perched on the stool, breathe deeply before holding his best breath inside his chest.
That’s when he felt the staring eyes.
Sitting in a doorway to an unexplored hallway, the huge black dog reminded him of the sitting lions, complete with the broad head and shaggy mane. With a careful tone, Quentin said, “Hello.” Then he picked out a dry kernel of cereal and tossed it towards her. The dog bent over, sniffed and then gave him another look, reconsidering her early skepticism. A purplish tongue lapped up the unexpected treat. Then she walked closer, stopping just out of reach before resuming her steady analysis of the interloper.
Quentin asked, “What breed are you?”
“A chow-chow,” Farah said.
She was standing in the same hallway, wearing a subdued red nightgown that hung loose, giving her breasts a buoyant, nipple-rich life. He stared and then didn’t. She approached, bare feet lifting up on their toes. A brush had erased most of the unruliness in her hair, and she had slapped on enough makeup to accent the redness of her sleepless eyes. She was pretty in a comfortably-at-home fashion. Her voice was slow and careful when she said, “I’m so glad to see you.”
Madam Trent had told her nothing.
“But how did you find me here?”
“I read minds,” he said.
She came close, watching his face, encircling his shoulders, squeezing until she thought of kissing him. She found his mouth, and Quentin pushed her back. Then she sat on the stool beside him and held one of his hands, conjuring a smile while starting to say something warm or apologetic. Whatever words would serve the moment.
“Someone called me last night,” he interrupted. “Somebody claiming to be your uncle.”
“I have several uncles.”
“From your hometown. Shiraz.”
“My mother’s brother, yes.”
“He had news about your parents.”
Quentin saw interest in the face, and concern, yet neither reaction seemed quick enough. What he saw was a woman ready for words not unlike these words, and now, after a few moments of silence, she asked the expected question:
“What about my parents?”
The chow-chow chose that moment to push between them, the barest hint of a whimper and the touch of a broad cold nose reminding Quentin about another solemn duty waiting here.
He shoved the dog away.
Farah kept her gaze on her husband.
His plan was to explain the bare minimum and hand over the uncle’s telephone number. But that was a stupid plan. Flat and plain, he said, “An armed man walked into your father’s office. Today. Eight are dead, including your parents.”
Farah held her breath, stared at Quentin and held her breath. Then she exhaled and slipped off the stool, taking a small step backwards.
The dog gladly pushed into the gap.
Using his knee, Quentin kicked the animal. The dull whine caught Farah’s attention, and she began to stroke the dog’s broad black head.
She asked, “What about the killer?”
“What about him?”
“Who is he?”
“Did he get away?”
“No, he killed himself.”
Farah nodded. She nodded and said nothing, one hand leaving the dog’s head but the other hand taking over. There was nothing else to do in the world but this one small generous act.
At last, Quentin asked, “What are you thinking?”
A bittersweet smile appeared, and Farah said, “There is a plan. I told you there is a plan, didn’t I? Yes, yes, I did.”