I felt my breath stop as I turned into my driveway. Why were the lights on at my house? Nobody was supposed to be home. My son Samuel was on tour with his grandmother and her girl singing group, the She La Las. Barry Greenberg had a key to my place so he and his son could come by to spend time with their dog, but I didn't see Barry's Tahoe parked out front for his son's bicycle in the driveway. Besides, they hadn't been over for months. Mason Fields, the man in my life, had a key as well but he was out of town.
I pulled my vintage Mercedes next to the garage and cut the motor, feeling uneasy. I looked back toward the street and saw several unfamiliar cars parked along the curb- though they could have been connected to my nearby neighbors, who often had a lot of company.
I considered whether I should call the cops. But what would I say? I was concerned because the lights were on at my house. As if burglars turned on lights. Didn't they use flashlights?
The only thing to do was to face whatever it was on my own. My backup was my smartwatch. All I had to do was push down a side button and it would call 911. I got out of the car and walked to the chain-link back gate. The sight that greeted me didn't make me feel any better. Cosmo the small black mutt, and the Felix, the gray terrier mix, started to bark and whine as soon as they saw me. They weren't supposed to be outside. I rushed into the yard and as I looked across the stone patio that ran along the back of my ranch-style house, my worst fears were realized. The outdoor flood lights weren't on, but I could still see the French door that led to the kitchen was wide open, which meant the two cats were outside too, lost in the semi-dark yard.
Now I was angry. The intruder was going to have to deal with my wrath. I wasn't being rational, but then rage never is. I stopped in the garage and grabbed a baseball bat and marched across the patio ready to do battle.
I walked in the open door rushing through the dark kitchen and into the living room. Ready for anything, I was still stunned to see a strange woman sitting on the couch. She was staring down at something and didn't look up. I did a quick appraisal of her and decided the gray tank dress and designer sandals didn't seem like burglar attire.
The sound of sirens growing louder barely made an imprint until I heard the pounding on the door as someone yelled out, "Police!" I knew what would come next and rushed to open the door before they battered it in.
Two uniformed cops gave me a quick once-over. "Drop the bat," one of them ordered.
"Mother, what have you done now?" a voice behind me said.
I closed my eyes realizing there was one other person I hadn't considered. My older son, Peter. But in all fairness, he had distanced himself more and more from my life. And when was the last time he'd come over?
It took a few minutes to straighten things out. I might have gone on a bit about the cats being lost in the yard, before Peter took over and told the uniform that I was a widow and was given to overreacting. My son saw the smartwatch on my wrist. "She must have panicked and pressed the button without realizing it would make an emergency call. You know- oldsters and technology." He and the cop traded knowing glances.
Maybe that's why Peter and I didn't spend that much time together. Oldster? He had to be kidding. I was barely past fifty and everybody knew that fifty was the new thirty. But by the same token, I couldn't really blame the cop for choosing to listen to my son. I was probably a little wild-eyed, and there was that matter with the bat. Peter, on the other hand seemed collected in his fancy casual wear.
Just as the cop was about to leave through the open door, a dark sedan pulled up behind the cruiser. A figure got out and rushed through the dark yard.
"Not him too?" Peter groaned as Detective Barry Greenberg came up to the two steps to the front porch.
The two dogs had come in by now, and Cosmo, seeing Barry, rushed up to him and put his paws on the leg of Barry's dark suit. Felix seemed upset by all the commotion and ran back outside. Without even looking, I was sure Blondie, who was a terrier mix in name only, was hiding in my bedroom.
"The cats," I said rushing back through the kitchen and into the yard. Barry was right behind me. He knew the two cats only went outside when somebody could watch them and make sure they didn't leave the yard, which was always during the day.
Barry had the presence of mind to turn on the flood lights, illuminating the yard. Mr. Kitty, as the black and white cat had come to be known, was sitting in one of the outdoor chairs waiting to be rescued. I heard rustling in the bushes and knew it was Cat Woman or Cat for short. Despite being ten years old, she was always on the hunt. Barry, ignoring the fact he was wearing a suit and dress shoes, pushed through the brush growing between the redwood trees that ran along the fence in my backyard and grabbed her. I heard some residual noise, and I was pretty sure she'd already caught something when he grabbed her. But by the time he brought her to me, whatever it was had gotten away.
I shut the kitchen door and locked it when we came back inside. Peter rolled his eyes when he saw us. And he gave Barry a dirty look. It didn't matter that we were long over as a couple, my older son didn't like him. Honestly, I think the whole idea of me "dating" didn't sit well with him, but he definitely preferred my current plus one, Mason Fields.
Barry peered at Peter and then at the woman sitting on the couch. "Are you all right to take it from here?" he said turning to me. Just then the woman stood up, and I think my mouth fell open when I saw she was obviously pregnant.
I saw Barry's lips curve into a smile, and there was the slightest shake to his head as he took it all in. I assured him that everything was fine. I thanked him for his help with the cats.
"Anytime," he said as I walked him to the door. "You probably figured that when I heard there was an emergency call to this address..." He shrugged. "I had an automatic reaction. Old habits die hard."
His gaze flickered back toward the living room, and he cracked a smile "You're welcome, Grandma."
Once Barry had left, it was time to find out the story from Peter. Of late he'd been wrapped up in his new career as a TV producer, and I'd barely seen him. Or talked to him. I didn't want to meddle in his life and had left it to him to pick up the phone. He hadn't.
Peter had always been closer to my late husband. It was like he knew in advance that someday I'd be an embarrassment. Everything I'd done since Charlie died had irked my son. I'd gotten a job and developed a social life. And maybe I'd solved a few murders and gotten some attention for it. What did he think I was going to do - sit in rocking chair and watch my life go by? No way. I was too busy living.
"Maybe we should start with introductions," I said, looking at the woman. No way would I call her a girl. She looked too focused for that. "I'm Molly Pink, Peter's mother and you are...?"
"Gabby Alter," Peter said, answering for her. I noticed he didn't fill in exactly what their relationship was. "I'm sorry about the cats. I forgot you had them," he said. He shook his head." I don't know what you have all these animals for, anyway."
"You can talk to your brother," I said. "The cats came with him when he first moved back, and Felix belonged to his last girlfriend. She lost interest in both of them."
"That's right and the black dog belongs to the cop. If you broke up with him, why hasn't he taken his dog?"
"It's not your concern," I said. I didn't feel like explaining that with Barry's work and his son being a teenager, the dog was more assured of consistent care with me. And I loved the little black mutt.
About that," Peter began. My son, with the perfectly styled hair and Lupedo Renaldi sports shirt, appeared uncomfortable, which was unusual for him. Ever since he'd been a kid, he'd had sort of a cocky sense of confidence. Something about his manner put me on edge, and I felt an uh-oh coming.
"This is just a temporary setback," he said and then took a deep breath. "We had a commitment from the network for two years of shows." He stopped and his expression grew grim. "And then literally overnight everything fell apart. The family sitcom starred Billy Boxmeir. He was the head writer, and it was based on his life." He looked at me to see if I understood.
You had to be dead not to have heard about the scandal. Twenty women had come forward accusing him of sexual harassment. After decades of shoving that sort of thing under the rug, the whole Me Too movement had pushed it out into the open. Overnight men in power had tumbled. Entertainers like Billy Boxmeir saw their careers collapse, taking everyone involved with them. It hadn't occurred to me that situation might be connected to anyone I knew.
I nodded and Peter continued. "Gabby was one of the line producers. With a commitment like that, we went ahead and made plans." There was a slight pause as he looked at me, reading my thoughts that I'd been completely left out of the loop. "I was going to tell you when everything settled. To cut to the chase, we had to back out of the house we were buying and lost the deposit. We'd already sold our condo." He glanced around the living room. "I thought we could stay here."
I was about to say something to the effect that it would have been nice if he had asked if it was okay instead of just announcing they were moving in, but he continued.
"It would give us a decent address while I put something new together. Tarzana isn't Encino, and it is in the Valley," he said with disdain, "but at least it's on the right side of Ventura Boulevard.
There was a whole hierarchy of areas in Los Angeles. Any place on the city side of the Santa Monica Mountains had it over the San Fernando Valley. If you had to be in the Valley, the communities that ran along the base of the mountains were considered the most desirable areas, and it was always best if you were south of the Boulevard.
"I'm happy you approve," I said with a touch of sarcasm. I looked to Gabby, and she was nodding in agreement with Peter. Great: two snobs were moving in.
"Is there something else you'd like to tell me," I said, glancing down at her belly. The tank dress stretched across her midsection.
I was so focused on getting a place for us to stay." He shrugged. "It's kind of new. We already know it's a girl. We have a name and everything, but it's supposed to be bad luck to say it."
"What about her last name?" I asked. I was still of the old school that thought babies were supposed to have married parents.
"You mean are we married? Not yet. But the baby's last name with be Alter-Pink."
"I'm glad you have that worked out," I said. "So when were you thinking of moving in?" I asked.
"Our suitcases are in the car," Peter said.