Randy wasn’t to be trusted; Ryan was too new to the game; her mother was far to busy to parent; there was only one route to take. Nora settled in with a bag of freshly popped microwave popcorn (extra buttery) and a coke and turned on her laptop. She had the entire fifteen-season run of CSI, the original one, Las Vegas. If she began at the beginning, she could learn the skills necessary to get to the bottom of the Mystery of the Dying Old People.
Grissom was awesome. Nick was cute, in an oldish sort of way. Warwick was Oh-my-God. The rest of them ranged from meh to annoying. After three episodes, Nora: 1) was done with it; 2) had a bunch of new TV friends who she couldn’t wait to meet again; and 3) full of popcorn and sleepy. She also had a new approach to discovering the secrets of Oleander Gardens.
Nora crawled into bed and contemplated. From CSI she had learned the following:
– Any location on the planet has some kind of traffic camera or something filming it.
– All photos and videos can be ‘brought up a little’ to clarify details such as people’s faces and licence plate numbers.
– All people will confess to their crime if faced with enough conclusive evidence.
– Any crime can be solved in 40 minutes.
– All she had to do was examine the scene of the crime, photograph and bag evidence, figure out how the evidence fit together, and she would have her answers.
Nora went to sleep that night actually excited about what she was going to do tomorrow. And she needed a team. Another thing CSI had taught her was teamwork. She would put together a team of the finest minds that OG had to offer.
Next morning, each room Nora entered, she asked questions.
She asked Mr.. Hoominz, as she mechanically changed his lavender bedding and ratty towels, if he remembered how many of the old people had died since he’d arrived.
“Well….” said Mr. Hoominz slowly, pondering… “I came here the year of the flood.”
“No, the great flood in Hunterville. A footbridge got washed out, and the stream changed course in two spots. One area that was fine for fishing, fine for fishing my whole life, mind you, for as far back as I can remember; why I used to go there with my pop when I was just a little tyke, younger than you! We’d sit on an old log that lay there in the gravel by the side of the creek, where it went round a wide bend, which caused it to slow down and deepen, almost like a pond or a little lake. Anyway, on that old log, we’d tie our flies. My pop, he was an expert at tying flies. And I’m not talking about those newfangled lures you get now, with the shiny bits and the dangly bits and all the doo-dads and fluff. No, my pop, he could take a fish hook, and a couple of feathers, and some line, and he could work magic. Those fish, once we stood up in our hip waders and threw our lines in, those fish never stood a chance.” Mr. Hoominz chuckled at the memory.
“Right.” said Nora. “So, it was the year of the flood…”
“Eh? Oh, no, that came much later.”
“I mean when you first got here, Mr. Hoominz. When you first arrived at ol’ OG…”
“Oleander Gardens. This place. You came here the year of the flood, remember?”
“Which flood was that?”
“Um, the one that changed your fishing spot, where you used to fish with your pop? With the old log and the lures made out of feathers? Then the flood came around and ruined everything.”
“Oh, Nora. You’re right, about everything! But how did you know? Well, never mind. I guess even with your powerful gift you can get mixed up sometimes. You see, the flood came much later. Long after my dear pop had left this world. No, sir; we hadn’t been down to that fishing area for such a long time. Why, I don’t even remember the last time I went fishing wiht my pop. When was it now? It was the year that young upstart Kairnes decided to build the new town square. Can you imagine? Anything to win the people over, eh Nora? But what’s the point, once one has already won the election? Am I right?”
“So, after the flood you came to live here, at Oleander Gardens. What year was that, Mr. Hoominz? Do you remember?”
Mr. Hoominz thought for several minutes. “What year was that…” he pondered. “Well, now, I guess that would have been around about the time of the flood.”
Nora was actually finished in his room and couldn’t continue this conversation for any longer regardless.
“We’ll talk more tomorrow, okay, Mr. Hoominz? Or maybe we can chat at lunch?”
Mr. Hoominz brightened. “Fried egg day!”
Next came the room of Mrs. Balanafeel. Mrs. Balanafeel sat at her desk, which had a mirror over it (as did all the desks; Ikea specials in every room). She peered into the mirror through her thick glasses and rubbed at her cheeks with a stick of rouge, her hands shaking like she’d just done two hundred push-ups.
“Hi, Mrs. Balanafeel. Do you want me to help you with that?”
“Oh, Rhonda, you’re such a dear!”
Who the hell was Rhonda? “It’s me, Nora, Mrs. Balanafeel.”
“Nora? Oh, yes. Lovely to see you, darling. We don’t often get visitors.”
“I work here, Mrs. Balanafeel.”
“You do?… Why, what happened to Rhonda?”
An excellent question. It occurred to Nora that she ought to have a notebook or something to jot these things down again. If Rhonda was a previous employee, she might have some information that Nora could use. In fact, she might have been let go because she’d been digging in places Mrs. King did not want dug. Nora would have to be more careful. Regardless, she pulled out her phone and started a new memo. Rhonda, she wrote. Ex employee? Might know something?
“So, Mrs. Balanafeel. Wanting to look your best for the funeral, I see.”
“Oh, yes, dear. Certainly Martha would have wanted me to.”
“Of course. So this Rhonda. Was she here before me?”
Still shakily applying a round red spot of grease on her cheek, Mrs. Balanafeel said, “Hmm?”
“You were thinking of Rhonda when I came in, remember? Did she work here before me? Cleaning the rooms?”
“Cleaning the rooms? Well, I suppose she did, yes. But there were different people here, back then. So many different people. There was Mrs. Rhodes. She came directly after losing her husband, Tim, in a horrific lorry accident.”
“Poor Mrs. Rhodes. What happened to her?”
Mrs. Balanafeel looked shocked, especially due to the wobbly black line of eyeliner she had drawn around both eyes. “Why, she passed, of course, Nora!”
“Is that really the only way anyone ever leaves here?”
“Why of course! We’re seniors. We don’t come here expecting to go somewhere else afterwards! except to our graves, of course.” Mrs. Balanafeel was so nonchalant about it.
“But what about illness? Does anyone ever get transferred to hospital?”
Mrs. Balanafeel thought about this for a long time. She was clearly looking back over her many years at OG, trying to remember if there had been an instance of someone getting transfered to a hospital or something. Finally she said, “She died only four months after arriving, you know.”
Nora sighed. Her work in Mrs. Balanafeel’s room was nearly finished, and she still had no evidence, except for a possible lead to someone named Rhonda who may or may not have worked at Oleander Gardens once.
“That’s often the way,” Mrs. Balanafeel continued. “My Larry, he passed many years ago. But you know, Nora, when a couple has spent fifty, sixty years at one another’s sides, always together through thick and thin, good times and bad, in sickness and in health, as they say, and then one goes, it is usually only a matter of months before the other follows.”
Nora felt broken-hearted. Imagine living with someone for that long! That was at least… four times her own life! Or something like that! So math was definitely not her strong suit, but compared to her life and how long she’d been alive and the few things she’d done, mostly alone, like go to school, move into a really ugly boring house in the suburbs, go to school for longer, drop out of school and get a job at an old folks home, to imagine doing hundreds of thousands of things always with this other person at your side and then losing them. It was nearly unbearable just to think about. That was it. Nora was good on her own.