Deck The Halls
Regan Reilly sighed for the hundredth time as she looked down at her mother, Nora, a brand-new patient in Manhattan’s Hospital for Special Surgery. “And to think I bought you that dopey crocheted rug you tripped on,” she said.
“You only bought it. I caught my heel in it,” the well-known mystery writer said wanly. “It wasn’t your fault I was wearing those idiotic stilts.”
Nora attempted to shift her body, which was anchored by a heavy plaster cast that reached from her toes to her thigh.
“I’ll leave you two to assess the blame for
the broken leg,” Luke Reilly, owner of three funeral homes, husband and father, observed as he hoisted his long, lean body from the low bedside armchair. “I’ve got a funeral to go to, a dentist’s appointment, and then, since our Christmas plans are somewhat altered, I guess I’d better see about buying a tree.”
He bent over and kissed his wife. “Look at it this way: you may not be gazing at the Pacific Ocean, but you’ve got a good view of the East River.” He and Nora and their only child, thirty-one-year-old Regan, had been planning to spend the Christmas holiday on Maui.
“You’re a scream,” Nora told him. “Dare we hope you’ll arrive home with a tree that isn’t your usual Charlie Brown special?”
“That’s not nice,” Luke protested.
“But it’s true.” Nora dismissed the subject. “Luke, you look exhausted. Can’t you skip Goodloe’s funeral? Austin can take care of everything.”
Austin Grady was Luke’s right-hand man. He had handled hundreds of funerals on his own, but the one today was different. The
deceased, Cuthbert Boniface Goodloe, had left the bulk of his estate to the Seed-Plant-Bloom-and-Blossom Society of the Garden State of New Jersey. His disgruntled nephew and partial namesake, Cuthbert Boniface Dingle, known as C.B., was obviously bitter about his meager inheritance. After viewing hours yesterday afternoon, C.B. had sneaked back to the casket where Luke had found him stuffing rotted bits of house plants in the sleeves of the pin-striped designer suit the fastidious Goodloe had chosen as his last outfit.
As Luke came up behind C.B., he heard him whispering, “You love plants? I’ll give you plants, you senile old hypocrite. Get a whiff of these! Enjoy them from now until Resurrection Day!”
Luke had backed away, not wanting to confront C.B., who continued to vent verbal outrage at the body of his less-than-generous uncle. It was not the first time Luke had heard a mourner telling off the deceased, but the use of decaying foliage was a first. Later, Luke had quietly removed the offensive vegetation.
But today, he wanted to keep an eye on C.B. himself. Besides, he hadn’t had a chance to mention the incident to Austin.
Luke considered telling Nora about the nephew’s bizarre behavior, but then decided not to go into it. “Goodloe’s been planning his own funeral with me for three years,” he said instead. “If I didn’t show up, he’d haunt me.”
“I suppose you should go.” Nora’s voice was sleepy, and her eyes were starting to close. “Regan, why don’t you let Dad drop you off at the apartment? The last painkiller they gave me is knocking me out.”
“I’d rather hang around until your private nurse gets here,” Regan said. “I want to make sure someone is with you.”
“All right. But then go to the apartment and crash. You know you never sleep on the red-eye flight.”
Regan, a private investigator who lived in Los Angeles, had been packing for the trip to Hawaii when her father phoned.
“Your mother’s fine,” he began. “But she’s had an accident. She broke her leg.”
“She broke her leg?” Regan had repeated.
“Yes. We were on our way to a black tie at the Plaza. Mom was one of the honorees. She was running a little late. I rang for the elevator . . .”
One of Dad’s not very subtle ways of getting Mom to hurry up, Regan thought.
“The elevator arrived, but she didn’t. I went back into the apartment and found her lying on the floor with her leg at a very peculiar angle. But you know your mother. Her first question was to ask if her gown was torn.”
That would be Mom, Regan had thought affectionately.
“She was the best-dressed emergency-room patient in the history of the hospital,” Luke had concluded.
Regan had dumped her Hawaii clothes out of the suitcase and replaced them with winter clothes suitable for New York. She barely made the last night flight from Los Angeles to Kennedy, and once in New York had paused only long enough to drop off her bags at her parents’ apartment on Central Park South.
From the doorway of the hospital room, Luke looked back and smiled at the sight of the two women in his life, so alike in some ways with their classic features, blue eyes, and fair skin, but so different in others. From the Black Irish Reillys, Regan had inherited raven black hair, a throwback to the Spaniards who had settled in Ireland after their Armada had been destroyed in battle with the British. Nora, however, was a natural blonde, and at five feet three inches was four inches shorter than her daughter. At six feet five, Luke towered over both of them. His once-dark hair was now almost completely silver.
“Regan, I’ll meet you back here at around seven,” he said. “After we cheer your mother up, we’ll go out and have a good dinner.”
He caught Nora’s expression and smiled at her. “You thrive on the urge to kill, honey. All the reviewers say so.” He waved his hand. “See you girls tonight.”
It was a commitment Luke would not be able to keep.