Rose McGillicutty's agile fingers eased the cervical collar off Blow's neck and set it on a wooden chair near the bed. They were sitting on the bed when she did this. With the collar off, she reached up and gently massaged the muscles and tendons in his neck and shoulders. A purr started in his throat.
“This feel good?” The question was unnecessary, but it enabled her to complement with the calm confidence in her voice what her hands were doing to his body. The purr climbed in affirmation. “Say if it hurts,” she cautioned. “You've sure got some knots, Darlin'. Didn't you say they gave you a muscle relaxant?”
“I think one of the nurses said that. Guess it didn't work, huh?”
“Where does it hurt the most?”
“In back. Whenever I move my head. Worse when I try to rotate it.”
She leaned in and kissed the back of his neck. “I can smell that collar on you. Smells hospitally. You don't have to wear it to bed, do you?”
“Let's try without it. It's only a sprain, but...you'll go easy on me, won't you?”
“Go easy on you? Have I ever gone easy on you, mister? Oh, well, those first few times, but they don't count.”
Blow, grinning, started to turn his head, then hunched his shoulders and squinted against the pain. The grin rode his memory back to his junior year at Leicester High School where Rose, brand new in the teaching game, tutored some of her male algebra students after hours in her home. Blow was one of them, and algebra only one of the tutored courses. Soon run out of town on the rumor express, she disappeared, to return quietly several years later and begin writing novels and running a confidential boutique bordello in her home. Blow knew she was back when he discovered in his mail a rose-scented calling card. As information, besides the scent, the cream-colored card provided only a tiny embossed red rose in one corner, a phone number, and a street address.
Seeing her, smiling her half-shy-half-sly smile, surprised and warmed him when he found her waiting in the hospital lobby. She started to spread her arms as if to hug him, then reached above the collar and ran the tips of her fingers along the stubble on his jaw. Her smile had gone more to the shy side.
“I was afraid you'd be in a wheelchair.” Her voice was soft, tone confidential.
Blow laughed. “I was afraid I'd be on a gurney. It's only a sprain. Hurts like hell, though.”
“Didn't they give you something?”
“A shot. Probly Vicodin or Percocet. Some kind of muscle relaxant, too, I think.”
“Feel kinda floppy?”
“Nah, more like...kinda loopy, I guess. Or I probly would be in a chair. Thanks for coming, Rosie. How'd you find out?”
The sly reasserted itself. “I have my sources.”
She hugged him, then tugged on his arm, nodding toward the door. “I'll put some soup on. Maybe some cabernet. Get you comfortable.”
Stepping into the night chill braced Blow, sharpened his senses. The afternoon clouds had vacated the sky, now a distant dark broken only by a smattering of cosmic glitter and a brilliant crescent moon. She led him to her Renault and opened the passenger door. She held a hand lightly on his head to guide it from bumping the frame during his awkward climb in.
“Smells rosy in here,” he said, as she backed the car out of its slot. “My inner wolf wants to howl.”
“Your inner wolf needs some food. First, anyway.” She declined his request to drop him off where he'd left his truck at Mundaign's: “You're too woozy, Darlin'. Don't want you in any more trouble tonight.” They decided he could get the truck in the morning, and she took him home. By the time she'd parked in her driveway he had brought her up to speed on his situation. She already knew about the kids, but hadn't heard of Chris Curtis's murder. She knew of Mundaign, that he was researching a book on local history, but she hadn't made the connection between his interest in Blackbeard and the murders.
“Do you think he was involved? I mean, maybe he shot them as trespassers? Some kind of get-off-my-lawn nut, you think?”
“Anything's possible at this point, Rosie, but my client was there, holding a pistol. I think he's innocent, but it sure as hell doesn't look good for him at the moment.”
“His parents are in Europe?”
“Should be here tomorrow. I might have better luck talking to the kid when he's out on bond. He's scared to death in there now.”
Several windows beckoned with curtain-softened light as Rose's modest brownstone came into view.
“I'm not interrupting anything, am I?” Blow knew the question was unnecessary but it'd become something of a habit, in this instance recognizing that Irma, Rose's secretary, who had taken on a discreet male clientele of her own, might be so occupied when they arrived. Rose found this arrangement convenient as she tapered off her own direct involvement in the entertainment end of her enterprise. Her success as a novelist was simply taking up too much of her time.
“I don't think so. Irma's probly busy proofing The Would-be Squire. It's almost done. My best yet, I think. She might feel like a little party break, though, if you're still up when I'm through with you.”
“Woody Squire, huh?”
“Hey, I like that.”