The Girl in The Portrait

Peggy Maynard had seen the portrait only once. Her husband, Will, had his back to her and hadn’t seen her come into the basement. He’d been busy cleaning brushes while working in his studio, a euphemism for the grungy basement he’d converted into an artist’s hideout.

She’d come downstairs to tell him lunch was ready. Then she saw it – the portrait from the torso up – of a wistful-looking girl of eighteen. She was wearing a flouncy white cashmere sweater that gave her an otherworldly look. Her dark eyes had an arresting quality and her blue-black hair was spread around her as if lifted by an invisible breeze somehow caught on canvas.

Peggy’s chest tightened. She had never seen such beauty. It transcended the boundaries of pulchritude allowed to man or woman. Who was she?

It was on the tip of Peggy’s tongue to ask but at that moment, Will stopped what he was doing and threw a cloth over it and the easel.

Now both the portrait and Will were missing. Twenty-four hours had gone by before she’d filed a missing person’s report at the Boulder police station.

Byer, the detective who got the report from a police officer, shot her a bug-eyed stare.

“Ma’am, you’re sure he didn’t just take a vacation all by himself and neglected to tell you.” He ran his fingers through his disheveled salt-and-pepper hair and his suspenders kept falling off one shoulder. He held a coffee mug in the other hand from which he took a sip and then set it down on the desk.

“After twenty-five years of marriage, Officer? Not likely,” Peggy said.

“Just thought I’d ask.”

Theirs wasn’t a marriage that allowed whimsy of any kind. Will was hardly the spontaneous type, taking off for parts unknown with paints, brushes, and easel as his artistic temperament dictated.

“You’d be surprised how many husbands stray after twenty-five years of marriage, not to cause you any further pain,” Officer Byer said with a delicate clearing of the throat. “Just so you know the facts. Coffee?”
Peggy nodded. Byer poured it out black in a paper cup. “Cream and sugar?”

“Cream. Thanks.” She took the coffee gratefully and cupped her fingers around the container. What was it about a cup of coffee when you were distraught? It had the power to soothe wounded feelings – at least temporarily.

“Was your husband successful as an artist?” Officer Byer asked.

“He’s had some good showings at the Galleria, but lately he hadn’t been selling,” Peggy explained. “He’s been going through a fallow period.”

“So how did you manage income-wise?” Byer asked with as much tact as he could summon, or so it seemed to Peggy. He wasn’t one of your diplomatic cops, but then wasn’t that a contradiction in terms? Cops weren’t meant to be diplomatic or they wouldn’t solve cases.

“He taught art at the Community News Center downtown, and I teach at an elementary school,” Peggy said, resigned to the fact that there would be many more sensitive questions and she might as well steel herself for them.

“So you’re not exactly hurting for money,” Byer said. “Was he depressed for any reason?”
She shook her head. “I didn’t think so. He may have been when his paintings weren’t selling. But his new painting was appraised at a lot of money.”

Byer’s ears perked up. “New painting? What was it?”

“It’s the portrait of a young girl,” Peggy said. “There were many potential buyers but Will was waiting to sell to the highest bidder.”

“Having a lot of buyers must have been a heady feeling.” The officer took out a notepad. “When did you last see him and what was he doing?”

“Well, it was the day before yesterday morning. That’s when I saw him last,” Peggy began pensively.
Her mind trailed back to their morning ritual of having coffee seated at the round table in the patio, a sliding glass door away from the dining area of their small ranch-style home that overlooked the front Range of the Rockies. Boulder was beautiful and she never regretted the day she moved here when she got the teaching position at Taft Elementary School.

Peggy telescoped her thoughts into a brief answer now. “We have our morning coffee on the patio just before I get ready for work and he goes off to the art gallery downtown to discuss paintings he’s currently working on. Then later in the afternoon, he goes to the Community News Center where he teaches art.”

“How long is the class?” Byer asked.

“Two hours I think.”

“Did you hear from him at all during the day?” Byer set aside the notepad as if there were some things that just couldn’t be transcribed into known language. He obviously wanted to study her.

“No. He doesn’t usually call from his cell phone unless there’s a pressing need,” Peggy explained. “I’ll call him if I need him to pick up something from the store.” There’s wasn’t a marriage in which each needed to be in constant contact with the other with a yearning that could only be viewed as sickening. She savored her job and her time away from Will, and she was sure he did the same.

Byer nodded. “Uh-huh.” He opened a pack of chewing gum and popped a stick into his mouth.” He extended the pack toward her. “Want one?”

She shook her head.

“I’m trying to quit smoking and this helps,” he said. “So was yours a happy marriage or just adequate, as they say?”

“We are mellow people. Neither of us wants excitement, if that’s what you mean, Officer,” Peggy said, hoping she didn’t sound defensive or he might latch onto her as the likely cause of Will’s disappearance.

“Was he known to stray outside the marriage? Sorry, but I have to ask.”

“He did in the past. But they all fizzled out.”

“How do you know if he isn’t seeing someone on the side now?” Byer leaned back in his swivel chair and it creaked under his weight.

“I don’t know. I don’t keep tabs on him and certainly don’t sneak around to see what he’s doing when he’s not at home,” Peggy said sharply. Irritation was inching its jealous and ugly head upwards and threatening to explode. There had been fights about Will’s philandering from time to time. But now she had no time or energy to find out if he kept embers alive elsewhere beyond the sanctity of their marriage.

Peggy, for her part, had found satisfaction in her job teaching fourth graders at Taft’s.

“My husband is not the only thing’s that’s missing,” she said, bewildered by this nagging fact. “The portrait he just finished is also missing.”

“The portrait of the girl?” Byer’s heretofore glazed eyes bugged out with interest again.

Peggy nodded.

“Any idea who she is?” Byer asked.

“No. I didn’t get a chance to find out.” It would have been beneath her to ask Will, to exhibit curiosity. She never interfered with the models who posed for Will, except one time years ago.

“Can you describe the portrait?” Out came the notepad and pencil.

“It was a young girl about eighteen years old. Very pretty.” Peggy wished she’d asked Will about the girl, but that would show weakness, uncertainty on her part, a repeat of what happened years ago.

“Did he do many portraits?”

“From time to time, when an interesting model came along,” Peggy said. “He never really discussed his work with me. He did a lot of landscapes, still life, that sort of thing.” She pushed a stray, damp lock of hair from her forehead. Anxiety made her perspire. Anxiety at the thought that she had tried her best to figure out Will’s art and had failed. “When Will was in the throes of an artistic attack, it was like being pulled into a vortex. He would forget to surface for meals.”

“Dedicated artist, huh? Interesting,” Byer said. “When did he complete the new painting?”

“A couple of weeks ago,” Peggy replied. “He showed it to several galleries and he was shocked at what they told him.”

“What did they say?”

“That it was a masterpiece and could go for thousands of dollars.”

Byer let out a low whistle. “That’s a switch, isn’t it?”

“I’m sorry?”

“For years he sells nothing and then – bam!”

“That’s right. Suddenly he paints a masterpiece,” Peggy said.

“Now both have gone AWOL,” the detective said half to himself. “Excuse my saying this but it looks like a case of the husband wanting to leave the marriage and not drumming up the guts to inform his spouse.”
Peggy’s heart thudded dully and she felt sick to the stomach, like the time she found out about Irma. Why didn’t she leave him and their marriage? Because they had something once when he was a poor art student and she a student teacher at the school where he brought his paintings for a showing at the school Carnival in spring. And because she never gave up hope of one day having a child, even when Will had. No reason to tell the detective all that and appear even more pathetic to him.

“I don’t know what to think,” she managed to say. “I just want to know where he is.”

“I’ll do my best to find out.” The detective got up. “You can go home now. I’ll be in touch if I hear anything.”

When Peggy got home, she bent over the kitchen sink and bathed her eyes pricking from unshed tears. She’d finally lost the battle after all. Will had apparently left her taking the valuable portrait along with him. The even tenor of her life had been turned over at its very root. Where could he have gone? He couldn’t just hide out somewhere. Or could he? Was it worse? Had he met with harm?

Peggy let the sink faucet run as she applied detergent on a sponge and mechanically started cleaning the few dishes in the sink – cereal bowl, coffee mug, and the small orange juice glass left from the morning. She’d forced herself to eat some cereal and gulp down coffee and orange juice before driving to the police station, not knowing how long she’d be detained there. Maybe she should have just called and have a police officer come to her house for the details. But would they have taken as much interest in the case if she hadn’t gone there?

The slow rhythm of scrubbing the dishes and the flow of the water from the faucet soothed her nerves. It was a form of meditation, listening to water flowing.

The shrill ringing of the phone startled her and jerked her back to what she was doing.

Peggy went into the living room to answer it. It was Carl Morrison, the director of the Galleria.

“Any news?” he asked.

“No,” Peggy said, wondering if she did the right thing in calling him as soon as she decided Will was missing. Carl would now be probably calling every hour on the hour. “I did go to the police station to file a report.”

“That’s good. It’s a start,” he said. “If you need anything….”

“Actually, Carl, there’s something. Just how much was the new painting worth?” Peggy asked finally, although hesitant to embark on that line of discussion since it opened up a host of not very pleasant possibilities, such as somebody harming Will to get their hands on the painting.

“Conservatively I should say about $10,000,” Carl replied. “Why?”

“Will never told me the exact value. Just that it was worth quite a lot of money,” Peggy said. “And he got a kick out of it since nothing had sold for the longest time.”

“Do you know if he told anyone else what the painting was worth?” Carl asked.

“I don’t know if he would or not,” Peggy said. “Do you suspect foul play?” As she spoke the words she felt a pounding thump in the pit of her stomach.

“Don’t know what to think this early,” Carl said. He murmured a few words of comfort and the hung up.
Peggy returned to the kitchen slowly and put on fresh coffee in the coffee maker. While it perked and bubbled the aroma reassured her and she sat on the high stool at the kitchen counter waiting for it to get ready.

Good thing it was summer, albeit late summer, or she’d be worrying about concentrating on her job while waiting to hear from Detective Byer. She’d probably be harassed by questions from other teachers at school. She didn’t want sympathy from anyone while she learned to cope with the situation on her own. Carl was okay. Besides he might be able to shed some light on the painting. Maybe Detective Byer would talk to him too.

By the end of the week, the sweet, balmy morning air revived her dejected spirits a little. Maybe today was the day Will would come home.

She could just see him walk up the front porch steps and into the living room carrying his easel and workbag. He’d say he’d taken a few days off and closeted himself in the rental cabin by the edge of the mountains to paint. And so engrossed was he that he forgot to call. Of course, that excuse wouldn’t fool a fly and he’d look sheepish.

Peggy shook her head at the make-believe scenario she’d just concocted. What had their marriage sunk to if he was reduced to making up such an asinine excuse to explain his absence?

The doorbell rang just then. She got up and walked toward it like a wind-up mechanical doll.

Through the glass panel on the side of the door she saw Detective Byer. Had he some new information?

Peggy opened the door and leaned against it as if bracing herself against – what?

“Detective,” she said. “Have you found out anything?”

“Actually, yes. May I come in?”

“Please do.” She stood aside to let him in.

She waved him into the living room just off the narrow corridor entrance.

Detective Byer sank onto the reddish-brown vinyl sofa and Peggy perched stiffly on a straight – backed chair opposite him.

“Does the name, Irma Vasquez, ring a bell?” he asked.

The name sent a jolt through her. It was name from long ago, eighteen – no nineteen years ago.
Careful now, a voice warned in her head. “The name does ring a bell, but I can’t remember from where,” Peggy replied casually. Then with more emphasis, she said, “No. I don’t seem to be able to place it.”
Byer shrugged. “Well, maybe you don’t. It’s the name of a former student of your husband’s,” he said.
“A student of Will’s?” So what if a name resurfaced. He husband had known several art students, some of them came over for a glass of wine and cheese and crackers before they went home. Peggy had never objected to Will’s after-hours socializing with his students.

“I put my assistant to work investigating your husband’s current and former students. I thought maybe that would turn up clues as to his whereabouts,” Byer said. “You’d be surprised how many people remember things from way back. One of the older students showed my assistant a faded photo. One of the girls was Irma Vasquez, somebody who was seen with your husband on more than one occasion at The Cellar for drinks – just the two of them.”

“I see.” It was futile to pretend now.

“The name ring a bell?” Byer asked, peering at her.

“Now that you mention it, yes.’

“Did she ever come here?”

“We didn’t live here. We lived by a creek that flowed off a hill.” Flashes of memory jabbed her mind, and she didn’t want to remember. A craggy walkoff from the hill that was really a cliff, a convenient cliff. An abandoned mineshaft below it. “People used to jog by it, not the safest place for jogging I might add.”

“What was the address?”

“237 Laurel Creek. I don’t know if anybody lives there anymore. It was almost an abandoned old cottage then. We got it very cheap,” Peggy said, hating having to provide him with so much gratuitous information. He should have had to earn it by dragging it out of her.

“The caption under the photo said ‘Utopian Artist’s Colony.’ Did your husband teach there?”

“He taught there, but he wasn’t one of the residents,” Peggy said.

“Your husband was in the picture, too,” Byer said.

“What does it all mean?” Peggy asked. They were going to drag out the past, she knew it. Nothing to do but face the music.

“I don’t know. But Ms. Vasquez died rather suddenly, didn’t she?” Byer asked.

“Ah …yes, I believe so. It was so long ago…”

“How did she die?”

“Some accident. Not sure.” Peggy knotted and unknotted her fingers. “What’s the connection with Will?’
“That’s what we aim to find out.” Byer let out an exhausted breath, as if he’d been climbing stairs and was short-winded. He should watch his diet or he wouldn’t get very far, Peggy thought.

Byer glanced at his watch and got up. “We’re going to dig into this and be back, Ms. Maynard. Don’t you worry.”

He walked noisily out the front door, turned back and tipped his finger at her in a sort of salute.

Peggy shut the door. A cold hand had a choking grip on her throat. Was Byer on her side or not?

Though it was only mid-morning, Peggy was drained. The mention of Irma had jostled her nerves and had brought the whole unhappy episode flooding back – Will’s infatuation with the girl, his lies, his absences.
Then all of a sudden, he seemed to have stopped seeing her or whatever he’d been doing, and Peggy didn’t know why. He would come home right after the art class and it was business as usual. No explanation, no remorse.

It was as if Irma had disappeared, at least for several months.

One day, a make-believe hobgoblin waved a mischievous and contrary wand at Will, because the late hours started again, so did the evasiveness and white lies.

Peggy knew she should have left him then, but she was a coward. She wasn’t going to start from scratch to accommodate his conniving sweetie, so she decided to stay, to endure and wear down the opposition.
That night, Peggy tossed and turned in bed, rolling the sheets into a bundle fused with perspiration. She’d doze a little and then wake up in a cold sweat. The sound of a twig scratching against the windowpane or the scurry of dry leaves on the dirt driveway sounded like a battalion of dwarves shuffling ever nearer, filling her with dread.

She thought she’d been rid of the Irma all these years, but Irma was haunting her like a wraith again.
The stark memory of the last time she saw the woman seared into her mind yet again. There she stood at the front door when Peggy had gone to open it to clear way some brushwood at the entrance. She had arrived without ceremony or warning holding a canvas wrapped in cloth.

“Will told me to bring this for the gallery.” She spoke haltingly with an accent, but she exuded a mystery that surely was attractive to men.

Peggy took the painting and set it against the wall, feeling gauche and clueless, and clumsy besides. “My husband in not home. Should he call you?” Will was off on one of his urgent projects, in the next town, for all Peggy knew.

“No need,” Irma replied.

There had been no pleasantries between them. Irma had been businesslike despite the searching manner in which she spoke.

Having accomplished her task, Irma turned to leave by the dirt path skirting the ravine above the quarry. She must have parked at the foot of it; it was a risky walk.
Will would usually park his car at the end of the long dirt road that led up to the house. It was cheaper not to fret about amenities, he’d said. No wear and tear on the car driving up. Anyway there wasn’t any garage to drive into so why bring the vehicle all the way up? Healthier to walk up the hill, too, since neither of them was into working out at the gym.

Peggy had waited a few minutes, then followed Irma until she caught up with the younger woman, still keeping a few feet behind noiselessly.

A slip of the foot. Hope flickered…

* * *

The front door bell rang as Peggy let herself into the kitchen through the side door. She laid the bag of groceries on the kitchen table with a thud and went to answer it.

It was Detective Byer. “I need to ask you a few more questions,” he said, standing there with his thumbs on his suspenders.

“Alright. Please come in.” Peggy said as politely as she could. This was going to continue until Will showed up or they found him.

“Was Ms. Vasquez married?” Byer asked as soon as he seated himself.

“I didn’t think so,” Peggy replied, moving toward the sofa. “Does it matter?”

“It does. We’ve located a doctor who attended her when she gave birth to a baby girl eighteen years ago. That took place in Littleton. Not here,” he explained.

More revelations. “So what are you saying, Detective?” She held her breath even though she didn’t care to hear the answer. Strangely, part of her did.

“It’s possible that Ms. Vasquez and your husband were having an affair and she went to Littleton to have the baby.”

Irma had vanished from sight for a time, as best as Peggy could gather from Will’s behavior all those years ago. “I don’t know what to say except now you know ours wasn’t the perfect marriage.” Peggy leaned back on the sofa, and put a hand to her head, which had started to pound like a tom-tom drum.

“Mrs. Maynard, are you feeling okay?” Byer’s voice had a disembodied aura to it. “You look pale. Can I get you a glass of water?”

Peggy forced herself to reel back to the present and get a grip on herself. “No. I’ll get it. Thanks for asking.” She swayed a little as she stood up. “Can I get you a can of soda?”

“No. I’m good,” Byer replied.

Peggy got herself a tall glass of cold water and returned to her seat on the sofa. She took several sips of it. “That’s better,” she said. “I’ve had a lot on my mind.”

“You need to take better care of yourself. We know this is all very hard for you,” the detective said.

“The police report of Ms. Vasquez’s death stated it was an accident,” Byer said, obviously determined to grill her again. “When did you hear of the accident?”

“When Will came home that evening,” Peggy said. “We got a call form the police. Some hikers found her at the foot of the cliff.” Talking about it made all her misery come flooding back.

“Did your husband ever talk about Irma or the baby?”

Peggy shook her head. “No. Why would he?”

“The baby must not have been more than a few months old when her mother had the accident. She was put up for adoption as soon as she was born.”

“Detective, I had no idea of all this,” Peggy said. So Will was the father. Irony of ironies. She had longed for a child of her own all these years, to no avail.

“We’re, that is, my assistant and I, are in contact with a resource in Queretaro, Mexico, where Ms. Vasquez is originally from. We think that Irma’s daughter has gone there to live with her grandmother,” Byer said. “That might provide some clues as to your husband’s whereabouts.”

“Do you think he’s dead?”

“We don’t know that yet.”

A surge of longing ambushed Peggy. She wanted to see Will again badly, if only to ask him a myriad questions. Had she been such a poor wife that he had to look elsewhere for companionship or whatever it was he sought from his women friends? Hadn’t she created a comfortable home environment, brought in an income, allowing him to continue painting during his lean years?

She glanced at Byer, wondering if he could read her mind.

“So what do we now?” she asked finally.

“Well, we could contact the Mexican Police Department and have them establish contact with the girl and her grandmother,” Byer said.

“How would they know where to look? It would be like…”

“I know the ol’ needle in a haystack routine. But we could find out the grandmother’s address through the girl’s adoptive parents.” Byer got up. “I have to go. Hang in there, Ms. Maynard. We’ll find your husband, one way or the other – sorry I shouldn’t have put it quite like that,” Byer said, looking sheepish.

“That’s okay.” Peggy didn’t know which was worse – finding Will dead or finding Will.

When the detective left, Peggy Googled Queretaro and found that it boasted of historic events such as the execution of Emperor Maximillian. His dear consort, Empress Carlotta, had gone mad – from loving him too much? She too had been unable to bear children, and so the Emperor had adopted a small boy, his son by his mistress.

The belated history lesson with its parallels to her own life made Peggy sick to her stomach again. She wanted it all to end, whether Will was alive or not. She’d get on with her life – move to another house, immerse herself in charity work when time permitted, and concentrate on her job.

A few days later, Peggy was awakened by an early morning phone call.

She sat up, jerked by the shrill tone of the cordless phone on the nightstand.

It was Detective Byer. “Brace yourself, Ms. Maynard. Your husband is alive and well in Queretaro, Mexico.”

Will was alive and he hadn’t contacted her. A dull ache palpitated in her chest and it almost left her breathless.

“The Mexican police located him at the home of the girl’s grandmother. He and the girl are both there.”

A long silence ensued as she absorbed the news.

“Are you still there, Ms. Maynard?” Concern laced Byer’s tone and Peggy was grateful for that.

“I hardly know what to say,” Peggy mumbled. Reeling from the news. She jerked herself back to their phone conversation. “Detective, I’d like to talk to my husband. I mean face to face. Go to Quetretaro.”

Silence. “I don’t know about that. This is still and investigation as to why he disappeared without a word, only to resurface in Mexico,” he said.

“Oh.” Disappointment bit Peggy. What did she expect? “It would provide closure. I hardly think he’s coming back,” she persisted.

“I’ll find out what the Mexican authorities say and let you know,” Byer said and hung up.

* * *

The beauty of Queretaro took Peggy’s breath away. How could such beauty be the symbol of such unhappiness for her?

The weather was mild and the outdoor cafes on cobblestoned pavements beckoned her. She’d found a small room with a balcony near the Plaza de los Perros and the wide andadores or walkways led from the Plaza to the main streets of downtown Queretaro.

Peggy took a taxi to the comisaria . The taxi weaved its way willy nilly through oncoming traffic. Where had she read that a Mexican stock car racer had perfected his skill by driving in Mexico’s haphazard traffic? Peggy could well believe it as she clung to her seat for dear life.

A warm breeze from the open windows blew in the aroma of corn tortillas and savory sauce from the stalls they whizzed by.

The taxi came to a screeching, jolting halt in front of a small, whitewashed building with orange bougainvillea snaking over the entrance on a trellis.

“Comisaria, Senora,” the driver said while claiming his fare.

Inside the dark lobby, Peggy turned into the main office, a small, crowded affair filled with noisy conversation in Spanish.

A short, stocky, uniformed man with a handlebar mustache approached her. “Senora Maynard?” he said with a heavy accent. “I’m Inspector Munoz.”

Apparently Detective Byer had done the honors of informing Munoz of her arrival in Queretaro.

“This way, Senora.” He led her into a small cubicle and pointed to a rickety chair. “Please take your seat.”

He stood near the entrance to the cubicle. “I can arrange for you to meet your husband.”

“Thank you. How is he?”

“He is well. He lives with his daughter’s grandmother,” Munoz said.

“You have seen him?” Peggy asked. The break between her and Will was now complete. “I’d like to talk to him.”

Munoz wrote something on a piece of paper. “Here is the telephone number. You can phone him and meet him anywhere you choose.”

Peggy took the number. She could use her cell phone to call.

She got up. She didn’t want to share any of her feelings of loss with a total stranger, even if he was a police inspector. “Thank you for your help.”

“One of my men can take you back to your hotel.”

Peggy thanked him.

She called Will as soon as she reached the hotel room. As the phone rang, her heart raced. What did one say to somebody who had left them?

“Hello?” It was Will’s voice. The same low droning tone.

“Will?”

“Yes?”

“It’s Peggy.”

Static filled the pause at the other end. “Munoz said you were going to call,” he said finally.

“How are you?”

“I’m well. And you?”

Sick with worry and revulsion, was what she wanted to say, but that wouldn’t help matters. “Okay. Will, why did you leave without a word? That wasn’t kind.” The words came rushing out and she didn’t care how hopeless she sounded.

“It’s no use saying I’m sorry but I am. I was convinced you wouldn’t understand about Irma and Fawn.”

“Fawn?”

“My daughter whose grandmother I’m staying with.”

“We need to talk. I want an end to something that’s been going on for years, Will.” Peggy could barely get the words out through the white anger that gripped her. He could at least have dealt with the whole thing like a gentleman. But then she was to blame too. She hadn’t wanted to lose him, what she had of him.

“How about tomorrow morning at this café.” He gave her the name. It was a small outdoor café near the hotel.

When she reached the café next morning, he was sitting at the far end under the awning that lifted softly in the breeze. The beauty of the flowers in earthen vases and the warm sunshine pouring over them like a benediction took her breath away.

Will stood up when he saw her. He took her hands and gave her a kiss on the cheek. It was more than he had ever done in all their life together.

He pulled out a chair for her and waited for her to be seated, then ordered coffee for both of them.
“You look good,” he said.

His hair was peppered with gray and he looked healthy. “Mexico seems to agree with you,” Peggy said. “Do you plan to stay on here?”

“Yes, This is what I want. Fawn is all grown up and I want to be with her now. I’ve met her adoptive parents back in the States and they are very nice people.”

The waitress set two mugs of coffee in front of them and Peggy took a sip of hers.

“Why did you suddenly leave, Will?”

“I had to do something about Fawn. Provide for her in some way. I didn’t expect you to understand or care.”

“You didn’t ask me, did you? You just assumed.”

“The portrait sold to a local art collector for a very good sum of money and I settled the proceeds on Fawn,” he said.

The fact that he cared so much for his daughter stunned Peggy. That was to his credit.

“So it was Irma all along, wasn’t it?” Peggy said. She wanted to get it over with and leave.

Will was silent for a moment. “I never meant to hurt you. But she was special. “And when she died, something died inside of me.”

“You never mentioned her after that.” Did he think that she, Peggy, was somehow responsible for Irma’s accident?

Will didn’t reply.

Peggy finished her coffee and stood up. “What about your things? Are you coming to get them? Or do you want me to send them on to you?”

“If you wouldn’t mind sending them, I’d prefer that.”

Good. She wouldn’t have to see him again.

“Goodbye, Will.”

“Goodbye, and take care of yourself.”

As she walked walked, away, she felt his eyes watching her. She was certain he thought she had something to do with Irma’s death. Which wasn’t fair. After all, it had been ruled an accident.
Innocent until proven guilty…

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