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stomped down hard on Patricia s foot.
 Bitch, Patricia said and relaxed her grip for a split sec-
Helen pulled free and ran. Out the door and down the hall.
Past the empty slumber rooms. Past the bronze casket, where
dying carnations covered a dead man. Through the double
front doors and into the hot Florida sun.
Chapter 25
Helen shivered in the blazing sun.
It was ninety degrees. The sidewalk sparkled and shim-
mered in the heat. But she felt bone-cold after being strong-
armed by the coffin pusher, Patricia Wellneck.
I imagined that scene, Helen told herself. I was never in
any danger. Patricia Wellneck is a respected funeral director.
She thought I was upset because I d been looking at coffins.
She offered me a comfortable chair and a cup of tea.
But the bruises on Helen s arm were already turning pur-
After she ran out the front door, Helen hid behind an SUV
in the parking lot for fifteen minutes, waiting to see if Patri-
cia Wellneck would come after her. No one left the funeral
home. But three people arrived in somber black. Patricia had
funeral business, Helen decided. And she figured I got the
Helen didn t feel safe catching a bus in front of the funeral
home. She ran half a mile before she waited at a bus stop.
That left her panting and out of breath, but it didn t warm her.
Now Helen was pacing anxiously, peering down the sun-
hazed street, praying her bus would come soon.
The street was deserted. No one was following her. The
222 Elaine Viets
land was flat as a kitchen counter. There wasn t a bush to
hide behind. She should feel safe. But she didn t.
Get a grip. Quit behaving like a wimp. Patricia doesn t
even know your name.
But Helen knew where that ebony coffin came from. She
wondered if Patricia and her horny husband were connected
with the boiler room. Were the Mowbrys laundering cold
cash from her funeral homes or sawbucks from her saw-
bones spouse? Did they know about the murdered Debbie?
Were they in on her murder?
No, she decided. Patricia would never leave a body un-
Helen should feel triumphant. She d found an important
connection. Instead she was uneasy. Casket shopping would
give anyone the shivers, she decided. Fashionable caskets
were even creepier, as if death were a Vanity Fair feature.
Eternally cool.
At last, she heard the screeching rumble of bus brakes.
Helen climbed on, sat down and sighed with relief, glad to be
on her way. It was only three o clock. Two more hours before
she went to work at the boiler room. She wondered how
much more trouble she could get into.
Might as well call Savannah. Helen had a lot to tell her.
The bus let off Helen in front of a convenience store. She
went in to buy a large coffee, determined to throw off the
graveyard chill.
 You don t want to drink the stuff in that pot. It s turned
to sludge, the woman behind the counter said. She was a
scrawny fifty and moved like her feet hurt.
 It s OK. Helen poured herself a big cup of something
drained from a crankcase.  I m not going to drink it. She
carried it to the cash register, wincing when she saw a bucket
of  love roses next to the beef jerky.
 I m not charging you for that stuff, the footsore woman
said.  I was going throw it out. Just don t tell anyone you got
it here.
Helen thanked her and stood outside the store, holding the
hot foam cup. She wondered how the woman stayed so nice
in these depressing surroundings. The parking lot was lit-
tered with trash, spilled drinks and fluids she didn t want to
When her fingers were warmed enough so she could
punch the buttons, Helen walked over to the pay phone. It
was encrusted with chewing gum blobs like fake jewels. She
dialed Savannah s number.
 We need to meet.
 I can t. Too busy, Savannah said. She d even speeded
up her drawl.  See you at the Floridian after we both get off
work tonight.
She hung up before Helen could answer.
Savannah didn t show up at the Floridian until nearly
eleven p.m., which gave Helen plenty of time to contemplate
the cheap champagne breakfast for two on the menu, and
wonder if she d ever have anyone to share it with. She
sucked up coffee till she was jittery as her old junkie seat-
mate, Nick.
Finally, Savannah arrived, trailing apologies and excuses.
She wore the same seat-sprung jeans and scuffed cowboy
boots. She looked thinner. Her face was more lined, as if it
had been freeze-dried. Her eyes were tired. Her sister s death
was taking its toll.
This time Savannah did not pick at her food. She ate like
it was her last meal before a seven-year famine. She ordered
an astonishing four fried eggs, a ham steak and a loaf of but-
tered toast. Helen felt positively virtuous with her single egg
and English muffin, so she added a chocolate-cake chaser.
When their food arrived, Helen told Savannah everything.
Well, almost everything. She did not mention Phil. But
she said she d heard some things at the party: The Mowbrys
could be involved in drugs and money laundering and so,
possibly, could their good buddy, Hank Asporth.
 So you think that s what my sister had on that disk? She
was going to nail the Mowbrys and that murdering buzzard
Asporth for drugs and money laundering? Savannah
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