I didn’t hear from my mother the next day or the day after. On the third day, I got a call from Jack Stein. After exchanging a few pleasantries, he asked if I would be available to meet him for lunch the following day. Not having talked to mother yet, I didn’t feel at all prepared, but nevertheless, I agreed to meet him at a small seaside cafe.
I was glad to be meeting with Jack away from the house because of Stella. She continues to baffle me. Mother didn’t seem too concerned about what Stella knows or doesn’t know, but I’m uncomfortable discussing anything with her, so I don’t. That seems to upset her. Stella is one of those people who makes everything her business.
I’m meeting with Jack today, and still no word from Mother. I decided I needed some air.
When I returned from my walk on the beach, Stella was in the kitchen preparing breakfast.
“I just want some coffee and one of your delicious croissants, Stella. I’m having lunch out and I need to shower and change, soon.”
“You haven’t said anything about Miss Claire in days, Miss Kat. Have you really not spoken to her? It’s not unusual for her to leave and not be in touch for a while, but she’s never been this sick, before.”
“I promise to let you know if and when I hear anything if you promise to do the same.”
I had been waiting to question Stella about her comment the night of the dinner. “Stella, what did you mean the other night when you said you couldn’t wait for Mother to learn that we ‘almost’ pulled it off.”
She brought my coffee and croissant over to the table and sat down across from me.
“I know the signs, Kat. She’s up to something. She wants you to get close to this group of ‘friends’ doesn’t she? By the way, I think you handled Ms. Morris beautifully. When I said, we almost pulled it off, I only meant they must have seen it as I did. Under normal circumstances Miss Claire would have found a way to be here for her annual Thanksgiving gathering. Where is she really, Kat? She didn’t go off someplace to die did she?”
“I don’t know, Stella. I really wish I did.”
When I arrived at the cafe, Jack was already seated. The hostess was expecting me and took me to his table. I tried not to be distracted by his strikingly good looks. I made a mental note to look in Mother’s binder and refresh my memory of his age.
He stood to greet me and offered me a seat across from him.
“Good afternoon, Kat. You appear to be doing well. What would you like to drink?”
“I’ll have water with lemon, please. How are the girls? I really enjoyed meeting them the other night.”
“They’re back in school and too busy to spend much time with me, I’m afraid. May we talk before we order? It’s important.”
“I’m in no rush to eat. Let’s talk.” I took a sip of water and waited for Jack to start the conversation.
“I’m sure you must be terribly worried about Claire. I want you to know that I talked to her doctor this morning. The news is not good, Kat.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I just sat there and waited for him to go on.
“The doctor said your mother wants to see you. She wanted me to tell you this in person. She would like me to bring you to her. Time is very critical, Kat. I intend to fly you there. My plane is ready and waiting for us. How soon can you be ready?”
“Where is she, Jack? Where is my mother?”
“I can’t tell you that. I only know that we’re flying to Seattle and a car will be waiting for us. plan to be away for several days. You can tell Stella as much.”
“Then let’s go. Give me thirty minutes at the house. Stella can fix some sandwiches for us to take along.”
On the way to the airfield, something occurred to me. Mother said ruby red slippers or not, I would never be back in Kansas. Now here I was, going back to Seattle where I had lived half my life. I wondered if it was just a coincidence that my mother was there.
As I went over in my mind the events and brief conversations I’d been a part of since Mother handed me the portfolio that day, something else stood out. Stella said I had handled the situation with Annette Morris well at the dinner party. Stella was not in the living room at the time. She was in the kitchen with the children.
What I wouldn’t give to know what this was all about. Maybe on the flight to Seattle, Jack will help me understand what Project Truth or Consequences is, and what will be expected of me.