"Aunt Bel, what exactly do you know about Mr. Bekku's fingerprints being all over the inside of your van?" Marguerite asked, stepping over a resting Rosie to reach the sofa where her aunt was relaxing after a session of Physical Therapy. Handing the elderly lady a tall iced coffee with plenty of sweet cream, Marguerite perched on the edge of the heavy teak coffee table. Sipping her own coffee, she waited expectantly for her aunt to answer.
"Because he was driving it of course, Rita dear," Aunt Bel answered serenely as she looked at her niece.
"Aunt Bel," Marguerite said slowly, "I was driving it before it went missing. Mr. Bekku had gone before I arrived in Domino. My prints should have been all over it, not his."
"I think the Captain did say something about that, dear," Aunt Bel said soothingly. "You know, he was so very nice when he stopped by on Sunday to get our fingerprints to compare to the ones they found inside. He brought one of his officer's with him to do that. I suppose with him being a Captain and all, he doesn't do much of that type of thing himself."
"Why was Mr. Bekku driving your van, Aunt Bel?" Marguerite asked her aunt patiently. The feeling that something sounded a little off about the story that the elderly Mr. Tumi had "found" her aunt's van parked outside his door the moment he arrived him was growing stronger in Marguerite by the minute.
She had tried to read Trudge's expression when he stopped by the house early Monday morning. He had knocked on the door, barely said 'good morning' to her, and dropped the keys in her hand, along with a long, white envelope, Domino Police Department stamped in the upper left corner.
"Here's the report your aunt will need to file a claim with her insurance company," he had told her, his eyes meeting hers, then sliding away. "There doesn't appear to be any damage and everything checked out with our mechanic. It appears you're good to go pick up your Aunt this morning."
Her stunned, "Thank you, Trudge" fell on the empty stairs as he turned quickly and took the steps two at a time, walking swiftly to the curb. A black sports car slid to a stop at the curb and she had watched him fold inside before it sped off down the street. Marguerite caught a glimpse of the driver, a woman with wine-coloured hair.
"Somehow, she doesn't look like one of his criminalists," she said to Violet turning away from the door.
"He would borrow it occasionally, Rita, you know, to run errands for me, pick up a dog to foster when I asked."
"When was the last time he borrowed your van, Auntie?" Marguerite asked, before scooping an ice cube from her glass.
"Well that would have been…" but Marguerite didn't hear the answer as Rosie bolted up from her spot on the floor, barking excitedly.
"Oh, that would be Mr. Bekku now," Aunt Bel's voice rose above the din. "I asked him to stop by while you went to pick up Angelique and the boys from their hotel. Today is the day you're taking them to the ball game, isn't it?"
"Bonjour, mon chéris!" Jo smiled as her nephews clamored in the van, before turning to take their eighteen-month-old brother from Angelique. "I'll buckle Claude in, Angie." Whatever her sister was about to say was drowned out by the excited voices of the older boys.
"We brought our gloves so we can catch a foul ball, Auntie." That was Gaël. Not to be outdone, his brother announced his intention to catch a homerun ball.
"Thank you for offering to take them to a game, Rita." Angie's voice broke in on the subdued din of the three boys. "I don't know if Claude would be able to make it through nine innings in this sun."
"There's plenty of places to get out of the sun and away from the game if he gets fussy, Angie." Marguerite glanced at her sister. "There's still time if you want to change your mind?"
"No thanks." Glancing toward the back of the van, where the boys were now quietly plotting their ballpark menu plans, she went on, "actually, I could use a break, Rita. The boys have been so hyper, my nerves are frazzled. Claude and I will hang out with Aunt Bel and the dogs for the afternoon if you don't mind."
"Of course not," Marguerite murmured, heading the van back toward her Aunt's house.
Trudge pulled the car into the parking lot. Through his open window, he could hear the metallic cracks of baseballs being sent through the air in the surrounding fields. The lot was a sea of minivans and he rolled along slowly, his eyes carefully searching for an open slot, as well as watching out for the people that seemed to be everywhere. He was almost about to give up, when he saw an empty spot near the end, and then almost drove past it when familiar pink paw prints seemed to jump out at him from the back of a bright blue minivan.
Trudge glanced at his watch. 4:45. Leo's game didn't start for fifteen minutes. Slowly, he walked toward the fields, wondering if he would see Marguerite. Other than when he dropped the keys off on Monday morning, they hadn't spoken since Saturday night. He told himself it was because he was busy, and she had family visiting.
The memory of her kisses and the warmth of her caresses on his skin was something he could not easily forget, nor was her musical laugh and bright smile.
"Auntie, we need a break!" Marguerite shaded her eyes as she watched her nephews trotting toward her. "We're hot. Can we get some ice cream from that building over there?" Henri pointed toward the Concession area.
"What about your dinner?" she asked mildly.
"I'm not hungry," Gaël announced. "I ate too much at the ball game. But I am hot and some ice cream would cool me down. Besides, Maman is probably not cooking and you left food for Aunt Bel to heat up, right? By the time you make us dinner when we get home, we'll be hungry again, so if you let us have ice cream now, we won't be hungry so soon when we get home."
Marguerite shook her head, trying to hide her smile as two pairs of earnest hazel eyes looked back at her.
"Gaël, I think you need to make sure you try out for the debate team when you get a little older," she told him. "Alright, come on. We'll go look at the choices. One ice cream or related cold treat, understood?" A chorus of "Bon, bon!" sounded as they skipped off in the direction of the concession stand, Marguerite hurrying to keep up.
Horatio was passing near the concrete building when he heard a familiar lilting voice.
"Yes, we'll take 2 Italian Ice's. One strawberry, one lemon. And a bag of Twizzlers, please." Before Marguerite could hand over her five dollars, Trudge slipped into line beside her, adding a bottle of water to her order and slipping some cash from his pocket as he did so.
"That will be … $6.75, sir?" The middle-aged woman at the counter looked from a surprised Marguerite to Trudge in confusion. The two boys in neon yellow t-shirts and baseball hats must be her nephews, Trudge thought, as he smiled at Jo and handed $7 to the woman behind the counter.
Marguerite felt the light touch of his hand on her back as he ushered her and the boys out of the line. At the touch of his hand, the memory of his kisses rushed into her mind. Marguerite glanced at him, and looked away quickly.
"Auntie, who is that?" Henri's stage whisper jolted her back to reality and she looked at her nephew before glancing at Trudge.
"I'm Trudge," he introduced himself to the young man standing beside Marguerite, hazel eyes regarding him seriously beneath the brim of the baseball cap. "I'm a friend of your Aunt's."
"I'm Henri. And that's my brother, Gaël. Auntie took us to watch the Miami Marlins play the Twins today."
"Are you here to arrest someone?" That was Gaël, his gaze on the gold shield at Trudge's belt.
"No, I'm here to watch a friend play baseball. I thought I recognized your minivan."
Trudge looked at Marguerite. She couldn't see his expression behind the dark sunglasses. Murmuring that the boys had wanted to get some practice in playing catch themselves, she'd stopped here after the baseball game.
"Hey, Auntie, do we have time to watch some of Mr. Trudge's baseball game?" That was Henri, smacking his glove with his fist.
"Haven't you had enough baseball today?" Marguerite asked with a smile, not surprised by the chorus of 'No Auntie.' I think you should ask, Mr. Trudge if he would like some company, first. Manners, boys," she reminded them.
"It would be my pleasure to have you join me. Do you know where Field 6 is?" Trudge asked them, before looking up at Marguerite.
"YOU don't know what you're in for, Captain," Marguerite warned under her breath as they hurried to keep up with the excited boys.
"I think I can handle it," he grinned, as they followed Gaël and Henri up the bleachers.
"Will you be back home in time to be our Team Parent. Auntie?" Henri asked, taking a bite of his strawberry Twizzler as they waited for Leo's team to take the field.
"I'm not sure," Marguerite hedged, reaching for a twisted piece of the red stretchy candy herself. She was fully aware of Trudge's eyes on her. "Your maman might want to do it. You should probably ask her first," she answered her nephew gently.
"Noooo," Gaël doubled over dramatically on the bleacher, while his brother shook his head emphatically. Glancing up, Marguerite saw the smile twitching at the corner of Trudge's mouth. An eyebrow quirked above his sunglasses in question and he paid no attention to Marguerite's quick shake of her head "no".
"I can imagine your Aunt would be a terrific team parent, but shouldn't that be a job for your mother or father?"
"Well, yeah, but our Dad is too busy all the time." That was Henri, his hazel eyes wide as he shook his head. "When Maman did it, she kept forgetting the concession tickets!"
Marguerite couldn't hide her smile watching her nephew's hands wave about him as he tried to explain the importance of the Concession tickets to a team of hungry and thirsty 7 & 8-year-olds.
Trudge was enjoying himself. He didn't miss Marguerite carefully scoot over about six inches to avoid being licorice-whipped by her excited nephew. Her lightly tanned thigh brushed against him as she did so, the contact sending a jolt of awareness through him.
"Mmmm. That does sound … difficult. So, what made your Aunt Rita a good team parent?"
"She ALWAYS had our tickets!" Gaël exclaimed, taking a bite of his licorice for emphasis.
"And she made signs for us!"
That was Henri, carefully untwisting the sticky strands of red candy.
"We had a barbecue at our house after the season with the WHOLE team," Gaël went on excitedly. "Auntie did all the cooking and she made us a team cake with all our names on it! We didn't even mind that we came in second to last."
He looked at his aunt for confirmation.
"It was too bad you came in fourth but, you were learning, right?"
"And you will do better this year, right?"
Both boys nodded and began talking at once about which team they might be on.
"How's your Aunt Bel doing?" he asked Marguerite quietly.
"She's good. Thank you for the police report, by the way. I stopped by the Insurance Agent's office and all the paperwork is in order. Do you have any idea what happened to it?" Marguerite chewed on her red Twizzler thoughtfully.
"I wanted to ask you about that," Trudge answered, pausing as he slipped his sunglasses off. "Would you go out to dinner with me tomorrow night? We could talk then?"
Marguerite suspected that he wanted to talk about more than her aunt's disappearing minivan. Before she could answer, Leo's team trotted out onto the field amidst cheers from the stands.
Alright, things will hopefully begin speeding up!
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