The Hitwoman Investigates
Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman Book 33
Maggie Lee knows she should “just say no” to retired US Marshal Lawrence Griswald when he asks for her help. But when has Maggie ever NOT helped a family member?
At Griswald’s request she partners with Nat Hunting to figure out what the hold up is with Griswald getting his private investigator license. It doesn’t sound that complicated or dangerous, but somehow Maggie ends up dancing with an octopus, breaking into a morgue, and facing off against a killer (armed only with a magnifying glass).
She’ll need the help of her loyal pets, some psychic guidance and more than a smidge of luck to survive this investigation.
You just know it’s going to be a bad day when you have to go to the nuthouse.
I felt a little sick to my stomach as I sat in the parking lot of the mental health facility where my mother resides. You’d think, after coming here to visit her for all these years, it wouldn’t cause me so much anxiety. You’d be wrong. Every single time that I walk through the doors of this place, I panic. Partly because I’m uncomfortable—I mean, nobody enjoys visiting people in the hospital unless it’s to celebrate the birth of a baby, and a mental health hospital is even more awkward. But mostly the reason I hate being here is because I’m afraid that someday I’ll end up here myself. Though, to be honest, it’s probably a better alternative than prison, and I’ve got an equal, if not greater, chance I could take up residency there.
My old friend Zeke had suggested that we meet here and then go to lunch together, and I was waiting for him to arrive. While I waited, I called my boyfriend, Gino.
“Everything okay?” he asked as a way of greeting when he answered the call.
“I just wanted to let you know that I’m here willingly,” I told him. Gino tracks my whereabouts, which probably sounds sort of Lifetime-movie-boyfriend-stalker-y but has been an actual lifesaver more than once, so I don’t really complain too much about it. The last time I’d shown up at this place, he’d called to make sure I wasn’t being admitted as a patient. Apparently, I’m not the only one with concerns about the state of my mental health.
“Good to know,” he said with a chuckle. “Is your mom okay?”
“Yes. I’m just here for a visit.”
“You sound tense.”
“Well, this isn’t my favorite place,” I told him. “Are you going to the doctor today?”
“You know I am,” he said quietly. Today was his appointment to see if he could return to work for Delveccio, the mob boss he was a bodyguard for.
“You sure you don’t want me to go with you?” I offered.
“No,” he said. “I can handle this on my own.”
I got the impression that he’d started to feel like I’d been smothering him with my nursemaid duties. I’d just been trying to be helpful, but I could see how my showing up with takeout every single day could get a little old. I also knew that part of his irritation was born of the boredom of being stuck at home all the time. He was eager to go back to work. I wasn’t so happy about the idea. After all, he has a dangerous job.
Seeing Zeke pull into the parking lot, I told Gino, “I’ve got to go. I just wanted to let you know that I was okay.”
“I appreciate that,” Gino said. “You’ll stop by tonight?”
“Sure,” I told him. “But if you’d rather be alone…”
“I’m getting this cast off,” Gino said. “I’m looking forward to us getting to spend time together without having my leg encased in plaster.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said, a sexy smile in my voice. “I’ll see you then.” I disconnected the call and began to climb out of my car as Zeke parked beside me.
“You’re doing a good thing,” God, my anole lizard, piped up from where he was curled in my bra.
“I know,” I told him. As much as I hated visiting my mother in this place, the lizard wasn’t wrong. By doing so, I’d get my aunts off my back about visiting her, see Mom, and I’d get the lunch with Zeke that I’d been looking forward to.
Zeke emerged from his car carrying a large bouquet of flowers. That reminded me to grab the container of cookies that was on my front passenger seat.
Zeke gave me a quick peck on the cheek as a greeting. I thought he looked distracted but before I could ask why, he flashed a grin. “Ready?”
“I’m never ready for this place,” I admitted.
He put an arm around my shoulders and gave me a reassuring squeeze. “It’ll be fine, you’ll see.”
I wasn’t sure I believed him, but I allowed him to lead me through the front doors of the building.
He glanced down at what I was carrying. “What’s that?”
“I made cookies with the girls,” I told him, holding up the container for him to see. I’d been making an effort to do more fun things with my nieces. Aunt Susan had passed through at one point, tut-tutting over the mess we were making, but we’d had a blast in the kitchen. The memory made me smile.
We passed through the security checkpoint and made our way to Mom’s room. The nurses all seemed to be very interested in Zeke, many calling him out by name. I wondered how many times he visited my mother offering a flirtatious wink or coy smile to the women we passed.
“You’re a popular guy,” I murmured so only he could hear.
“You attract more bees with honey,” he replied, not allowing the smile he beamed at everyone we encountered to even flicker.
“More bees, more stings,” I muttered grouchily, even though I knew he meant more flies than bees. I wasn’t exactly jealous, but I wasn’t pleased about the amorous looks headed his way.
To my dismay, while he attracted the attention of the staff, it was the patients who were drawn to me. One genuflected at my feet, another called me Shirley, and a third had started grooming me like a chimpanzee, pulling imaginary bits off my shirt. I’d drawn the line when she’d tried to hook a finger into my ear. (Okay, I shoved her away, but nobody noticed, so that doesn’t technically count, right?)
By the time we got to Mom’s room, I was ready to run screaming from the place. As though he sensed my desire to flee, Zeke grabbed my hand and squeezed it tightly. I knocked on the door, and we waited for my mother to reply.
“Hallelujah!” my mother trilled from inside her room. My stomach dropped. That was not a normal greeting. I already knew this wasn’t going to be the best of visits.
“Hello there, Mary,” Zeke said, marching into the room with a big smile. He dragged me behind him, oblivious to the fact that I really didn’t want to step inside.
My mother was sitting by the window. She blinked at us, and I could tell that she wasn’t quite sure who we were. Undaunted, Zeke released me and walked over to her, extending the flowers. “I brought these for you, Mary.”
Mom beamed. She snatched the flowers from him and stuck her face into the bouquet, inhaling deeply. When she looked up again, she smiled. “They’re beautiful.”
“Like you,” Zeke said with his most charming grin. He sank down onto her bed and glanced over his shoulder at me.
I shuffled into the room uncomfortably. “Hi, Mom.”
She squinted at me, and I had the distinct impression she was trying to figure out who I was.
“Your daughter, Maggie, made you cookies,” Zeke said smoothly, trying to provide my mother with our relationship without making it too obvious.
“Cookies!” my mother yelled, jumping to her feet. She thrust the flowers back at Zeke and grabbed the container out of my hands. “What kind are they?”
“Surprises in the Clouds,” I told her quietly.
“Poetic name for a cookie,” God remarked.
“Oooh,” my mom enthused. “They’re my favorite!”
While she battled to open the container, I told her, “I know. I used your recipe.”
For some reason, that seemed to get through to her, and she looked up at me. “You used my recipe, Maggie?”
Realizing she had some idea of who I was, I nodded back with a smile. “I made them with Katie and Alicia.”
Her gaze grew cloudy, and I realized I’d lost her again.
My shoulders slumped, and I could feel my smile fading.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever had those,” Zeke said, reaching out and gently taking the container. He pried the lid off for her and then held it out so that she could grab a cookie.
“Thanks,” I told him when he held it out so that I could take one, too.
“The surprise is the best part,” my mother said. She bit into one and closed her eyes, savoring the taste. “Just like I remember,” she said with a grin.
At that moment, one of the nurses bustled in. “Having a good day, Mary?” the woman asked.
My mother grabbed the container from Zeke and rushed over to her. “Try one of these cookies,” she said, thrusting it in the woman’s direction.
The nurse smiled and took one. “Homemade.”
“She made them,” my mother said, pointing at me.
I knew by the way she said “she”, that she didn’t know my name in that moment. Tears pricked the back of my eyes. She’d been doing so well; I didn’t understand the setback that she seemed to be having.
The nurse, noticing my reaction, walked over and patted my shoulder. “I know it feels like a giant leap backward, but have faith,” the woman said kindly. “It’s just that her last guest upset her.”
“Who was that?” I asked sharply, wondering if my father had broken the rules, yet again, to see his wife.
The woman shrugged. “I don’t know.” She must’ve seen the frustration on my face because before I could say anything, the nurse suggested, “We could go look at the visitor log.”
I glanced at Zeke. “You’ll stay with her?”
“Let’s go,” I told the nurse. I was going to find out who had set my mother back. If it was Archie Lee, I was going to make him pay.