Julie looked at her brothers and Wally. All but Seth were looking blankly at each other. He was looking at the table in front of him.
“I know where the list is,” he said, quietly. “Dad told me where it’d be if I ever needed it.”
“And you’ve been sitting there feeling sorry for yourself? Ugghh.” Julie took a breath and closed her eyes. I don’t bug him as much as he deserves.
Wally stood and grabbed his jacket. The others followed suit, as though on signal. Julie was the last to leave the room, right behind Jed and Josh. Josh caught Jed’s arm at the door. “What the hell’s gotten into Seth? He’s on a hair-trigger today.”
Jed looked ahead to Wally and Seth, who were already leaving the café, before he turned to Josh and Julie. “He doesn’t want anyone to know, but Martha found a lump. She’s scheduled for a biopsy next week.”
Fifteen minutes later, they were in Doc’s house, the home that all but Wally were raised in. It felt strange for Julie to walk into the house without calling out to her father. She gathered from her
brothers’ faces that they felt the same. Concentrate on the job at hand, she thought. Now isn’t the time for grief. Dad was seventy-one and tired of living without Mom.
Seth turned on the computer, rummaged through the top drawer of the computer desk, and extracted a yellow pad.
Julie slid into the chair in front of the keyboard and waited for Seth to decide if he had the right paper.
“Try ‘25Walter.’ See if that gets us anywhere,” he said.
Julie typed it in. “Wrong password” popped onto the screen.
Seth thought a moment. “Okay, try ‘2stanley.’”
Again, the computer refused the password. “What are you reading?” Julie asked him.
“Dad’s clues. He was too cautious to write his passwords down. He described them. We’re looking for ‘anniversary of the old fool.’”
Seth showed her the pad. “So, who’s the old fool, and when was his anniversary?” she
Josh’s face lit up. “I’m ready for another piece of pie. How about you guys?”
Seth snorted, but for once didn’t gripe. “Let’s wait until after two. The noon rush will be over, and the old lady might have time to talk.” He groaned and hit himself on the forehead with the flat of his hand. “Did anybody leave her a tip?”
The heirs walked into the Coffee Cup Café at two fifteen. The only customers in the place were two gray-haired ladies having coffee. Gert, now wearing a sweater over her white blouse, was resting in one of the booths, eating a bit of pie.
She smiled wryly. “Back so soon, kids? Was the pie that good?”
Josh, apparently not trusting Seth’s temper, took the lead. “The pie was fantastic, but we wondered if you’d have time to help us out? Dad’s computer passwords are riddles about the town and people he knew. We’ve been away too long to know the answers.”
The old lady nodded slowly. “I’ll try to help, but my heart medicine wipes me out in the afternoon. Your dad was a crafty old geezer.” She sat up and took a sip of coffee. “What’s the first riddle?”
Julie took the seat opposite her. “We think it’s ‘the old fool’s anniversary.’”
“Everybody calls me, ‘Gert,’ by the way.” Gert buried her face in her hands and thought. “There was a couple your parents vacationed with a few times. She was a nice lady, older than her husband and rich, at least for this area, but not very bright and too trusting. Suzy, yeah, her name was Suzy. Your dad never forgave her husband for dumping her for a younger woman, a little gold digger from a farm on the hills south of town.
“What was that jerk’s name? Anyway, he took half of Suzy’s money, married the little hussy, and left town.” Gert stared into space, straining to remember. “Suzy fell for some creep who took the rest of her money. Left her broke and sick. She crawled into a bottle and died in a mental hospital five years later.”
Gert massaged her temples, took another sip of coffee, and thought. “Andy, that was her first husband’s name. Andy’s new wife took him the same way he took Suzy, only faster. Miserable goddamned jackass, and it served him right. He was back in town and broke in ten years.” Gert nodded to Julie, “Andy, Andy’s the name you’re looking for.”
“How does ‘anniversary’ come in?” Julie asked.
Gert pursed her lips and stared at her empty dessert plate for a few seconds before looking up in triumph. “That’s it. That’s what pissed your mom and dad off so much. Andy walked out on Suzy on their thirtieth wedding anniversary. Try the number thirty and ‘Andy’ or ‘Andy’ and ‘thirty’. See if that does it.”
The heirs looked at each other. Seth nodded to Jed and Josh, and the four men started for the door. “That sounds like Dad,” Julie said. “Can we give you a tip for your help?”
Gert shook her head, emphatically. “Nah. I always liked your parents. Your mom was only a year ahead of me in high school. She set me straight about a soldier at the base who was sweet-talking me, the lying bastard. Your mom and grandma were the only women in town who didn’t turn their backs on me when I showed up pregnant. Just get out of here for a while, and let me take my nap. Come back around five, and let me know if it works.”
Gert put her feet up, leaned back, and closed her eyes without waiting for a response.