Novel 3: Act III, Chapter 2, Scene 1a

TOC page here.

After a long hiatus, we’re back. Bill Knight is dead, and now it’s time to notify his wife.

Diana always ended up lost every time she went to AmericasMart. The complex, ten blocks and a world away from Peachtree-Pine, was always growing, and since it was mostly windowless, Diana’s usually acute sense of direction didn’t work except on the rare occasions when they emerged into one of the covered Habitrail walkways that connected the buildings far above street level. Diana wanted to gawk at the various showrooms, but Mustapha plowed ahead at his usual pace: if she wanted to examine what wholesalers and specialist merchants had to offer to retailers and interior designers, she’d have to do it on her own time, with a map and a trail of breadcrumbs.

When Mustapha stopped to look at the signs mounted high on the walls, she was gawking at a store full of chandeliers, so she walked right into his back with an oof! and a faint whiff of cigarettes and mint tea. She had to windmill her arms to keep from falling, but he didn’t even seem to notice. Then, with a nod, he turned left and plunged back into the labyrinth. Some time later, they came upon a store whose metal grate was only half-raised. Mustapha gracefully ducked under it; Diana took her time, making sure to be gentle to the bad knee.

As she stood back up, a woman came trotting from the back of the store. Late forties, well-cared for, elegant. Her carefully tailored clothes minimized the stockiness of her figure. “Y’all, I’m just getting ready to open,” she said. “Make yourself comfortable and I’ll be right with you.” She turned on a heel and went back to where she’d come from.

Diana looked around. The showroom was nothing but chairs, ranging from well-padded upscale office chairs, through the sort that you might see at a fancy restaurant, all the way to the not-quite-recliners found in the rooms of better hotels. She found an office chair and kicked back; Mustapha paced.

The woman reemerged a few minutes later. “I knew if I didn’t finish that email, I’d forget to send it. Catherine Knight: what can I do y’all for?”

Mustapha flipped open the leather case that held his shield. “My partner here spends a lot of time in front of the computer.”

A nice smile. “I don’t do retail. Now, if you were looking for chairs for the whole department,”

“If only. Listen, Ms. Knight, your husband is William Knight?”

“Yes. What’s this about?”

“I’m afraid we’ve got some bad news for you.”

She took it well, at first, thought Diana. Maybe she herself would, if her husband was living on the streets; she’d know in the back of her head that the police would show up one day. Catherine Knight’s reactions seemed rehearsed, as if she’d imagined having this conversation before; but the stress in the set of her jaw and the cords of her neck was real.

When Mustapha was done telling her he was sorry, Knight put her face in her hands, sobbed a couple of times, then remained silent, before looking up, red of cheek but clear of eyes. “Was it the alcohol?”

“No, ma’am,” said Diana.

“He had such a terrible problem with drinking. How he wound up on the streets. But he managed to get his life back together. He was supposed to come back to us last fall, but he wanted to wait: to make sure he had the strength to deal with the streets before he could deal with his family. I didn’t understand, at first—all we ever did was love him—but that was the problem, you see. He couldn’t deal with being loved when he had so many problems inside.” She looked pensive; Diana and Mustapha waited her out. Then: “If it wasn’t a drink, was it one of the other bums?”

What does this initial look at Catherine tell you about Bill? What does it tell you about her? What does it tell you about their relationship? Why is this important?

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