Fiction by L.K.Campbell

Aunt Eve's Last Bite

Celeste entered the empty lobby and made her way to the control box next to the inside doors. She dimmed the low-wattage security lights located along either side of the room. Flipping another switch, she lit four lamps in the lobby’s lounge area along with the recessed lights above the front desk and the mural. By the inside doors, she keyed in a code to release the security lock. With the lock disabled, guests could come and go without using room key cards or ringing the video doorbell between eleven p.m. at night and eight a.m. in the morning. Last, she went behind the front desk and shut off the automated answering system on the phone.

She sat in Maddie’s chair and listened to the messages recorded overnight. She jotted down the number of one caller who requested information on wedding packages. In her peripheral vision, she saw someone entering the front door. A tall, silvered-haired man dressed in golfing attire approached her. He didn’t wait for her to ask, May I help you? before he began speaking. He must be another Penny.

“I’m looking for Eve Tolliver,” he said. “I was told she’s staying with you this weekend.”

His demeanor caused a knot to form in Celeste’s stomach. No more trouble today, please.

“She went out a little while ago,” Celeste said. I feel no need to tell him she might still be on the premises. “Would you care to leave her a message?”

“Yeah, I’m her husband, Hank Tolliver, and if it’s no bother, I’ll sit over there and wait for her.”

I think I’m going to be sick. “Do as you wish,” she said. “But it might be a while before she returns.”

Hank sauntered over to the sofa and picked up a local attractions magazine from the coffee table. Celeste kept watch on the pool access door while listening to the phone messages. She soon realized she should’ve been minding the café entrance.

“What are you doing here? I distinctly remember saying, don’t come,” Diane Dyson said to Hank.

Even wearing a conservative amount of makeup and casual clothing, Diane presented an attractive appearance. Celeste hoped Eve wouldn’t return from her trail walk any time soon.

“I drove up last night,” Hank said. “After your call yesterday, I started to worry. Eve could cause trouble.”

At her neckline, Diane’s fingers moved a turquoise pendant back and forth like a worry bead along a slim, gold chain.

“Hank, no matter how stubborn she is, she has to understand this can’t be avoided,” Diane said. “You’ve heard the truism about death and taxes.”

Celeste tried to concentrate on the new bookings placed through the website, but Hank’s voice bellowed out.

“I think she’s blocked my phone number. I’ve tried calling her damned cell phone every day for the past two weeks, and the call goes straight to voice mail,” he said. “Knowing her, she probably deletes them without even listening to them.”

Another couple emerged from the café and stopped to watch Hank’s tirade. Does he realize how loud he’s speaking? He might be in his mid-seventies. Maybe he has a hearing problem. Diane touched his shoulder.

“I realize you’re upset but keep your voice down,” she said. “And mind your language, please.”

Celeste almost laughed at Diane’s maternal behavior toward Hank, but she coughed to cover it.

“Where are you staying?” Diane asked.

“There wasn’t a room to be had in Blowing Rock last night, but I found a vacancy at the Hampton Inn in Boone.”

“Good. Then, go back to your room and wait for me to call you,” she said.

He dropped the magazine he’d been holding onto the coffee table and started toward the front door. Simultaneously, Celeste heard the top hinge on the pool access door let out a nails-on-chalkboard squeak.

Eve marched toward Hank. “I can’t believe you followed me to this place and dragged along your little side dish.”

He planted his fists on his hips. “Side dish? What the hell is a side dish supposed to be?”

“I follow young people on Facebook,” Eve said. “I’ve seen them using the term in live chats.”

Celeste squinted at the spark of recognition passing between Diane and Lacee. Even more disconcerting was how Lacee seemed to mock Eve behind her back.

Diane pushed past Hank and confronted Eve. “Mrs. Tolliver, I’m no one’s side chick. I’m a Certified Public Accountant your husband hired recently. Do you realize you only have three days to file your taxes?”

“And what business is that of yours?” Eve asked. “I’ll have my CPA take care of it when I get back home.”

Hank moved to Diane’s side. “I realize it’s a new concept for you, Eve but please try to listen more and talk less.”

Eve’s hand flew back to slap him, but Hugh grabbed her arm, stopping her from completing the action.

“Please explain why you’re here,” Hugh said to Diane.

“Hank and Eve aren’t divorced yet,” she said. “And the I.R.S. still considers them a married couple.”

Hugh let go of his mother’s arm, and she folded both arms across her chest.

“You can either file as ‘married filing separately’ or ‘married filing jointly’,” Diane continued. “But my advice is to do the latter. The bottom line will come out better considering your joint financial holdings won’t be allocated to one or the other of you until your divorce is finalized.”

Eve’s eyes cut toward Hank for a split second, but her gaze eventually settled on Diane. “And you couldn’t have called me to inform me of this?”

“You won’t answer your phone or respond to your messages,” Hank said. “I’ve left at least ten voicemails in the past two days.”

She reached into her purse and pulled out her phone. “Oh, sorry, it’s turned off.”

“Mom, I’ve told you to keep your phone charged and powered on at all times,” Hugh said. “What if you had an emergency?”

Eve’s face scrunched into a scowl. “Don’t chastise me as if you’re the parent and I, the child.”

Diane inhaled a deep breath and blew it out through her parted lips. “If I may continue, I need copies of your financial records for the past year,” she said. “If you want me to prepare your taxes. You’re free, of course, to consult another CPA.”

And I’ll bet right now Diane wouldn’t mind if they did. Celeste wished she could extricate herself from witnessing their tête-à-tête, but someone had to watch the front desk.

“Hank knows good and well my attorney has all of those records,” Eve said. “He’s working on our divorce settlement.”

“You don’t have the originals?” Diane asked.

“No, I trust my attorney to return everything to me.”

Hugh shook his head and pretended to zip his mouth shut. Celeste had to cough again to keep from chuckling.

“Call his secretary and ask her if she’ll fax them to you,” Eve said.

“Mrs. Tolliver, your lawyer can’t release those to me without your signed and witnessed consent,” Diane said.

Eve’s arms fell to her sides, and she huffed loud enough for everyone to hear it. “Do you have the paperwork ready for me to sign?”

“I can download a consent form and print it out.” Diane shifted her attention to Celeste. “Would it be okay for me to use your office printer?”

Celeste nodded. “Yes, it’s Bluetooth enabled so you can connect to it through your laptop.”

“I have a lot of family business today,” Eve said. “And we’re attending some kind of literary reading at the library this evening. Meet me tomorrow morning first thing in the café. Can my son witness my signature?”

She has plenty of time to sign a paper today. Eve is making her wait on purpose. How spiteful.

“It’s a holiday weekend so it won’t inconvenience me to stay one more day,” Diane said. “And yes, your son can witness your signature.” She locked eyes with Hank and nodded the toward door. He picked up on her hint and charged out the door without another word to his soon-to-be ex-wife.

While Eve and Lacee waited for the elevator, Hugh came over to the reception desk. “I’m sorry you had to hear all of that,” he whispered.

“I tried not to eavesdrop,” Celeste said.

Hugh smiled. “It couldn’t be helped. All Pennys seem to speak a decibel above what’s considered socially acceptable.” His expression became serious. “Mrs. Adams, my mother is a good person. She’s generous to a fault and has helped several people in need without expecting any recognition for it. Her problem is she can’t allow herself to be happy. Whenever she has a chance at it, she finds a way to sabotage it. It’s almost as if she doesn’t believe she deserves happiness. Sadly, she’s seventy-two, and I guess she’s beyond changing now.”

Eve’s family curse story crossed Celeste’s mind. Perhaps, it’s because she believes in curses, she thought but refrained from saying aloud.

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ISBN-13: 9798201937973 

Language: English

Words: 49,159

Published On: Dec 26, 2023

Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » General Fiction » Mystery & detective » Cozy