The Ring Bling, Part Four: The Fixer
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My sweet ol’ G-ma had given me the slip at the Miami International Airport. I was never going to hear the end of it when we all got together for Thanksgiving. Especially if she didn’t resurface by then.
After confirming with the ticket agent that no one had snuck up and abducted her while my back was turned, I had to assume G-ma had taken off on her own. That little sneak. I was so hopping mad! Now I had to rent another car to go after her.
But first I needed food, or I was going to fall down from low blood sugar. Not because of the alcohol I’d consumed at the Cheesecake Factory, because I hadn’t had any alcohol. I don’t drink and had only pretended to finish off the G&T with my new friend Rolly because I didn’t want him to think I was a nerd (even though I totally am). Regardless, I needed something to eat. The only two things in the part of the airport that I could get to without a ticket were a grilled cheese food truck parked in front of the TSA entrance, and something called Flammo’s Coffee and Crab Shack, which looked rather sketchy.
In hindsight, a gooey grilled cheese sandwich, while delicious, might not have been the best thing to eat while waiting in line to rent a car, and finish while trying to drive out of the airport. I got cheese in places that a person shouldn’t get cheese.
Once I’d finished my deliciously disastrous sandwich, I connected my phone to the car’s Bluetooth. Time to call in the big guns. My other grandma.
“Hi, Grandma Delphine, it’s Griffin.”
“I caught that part, dear. How are you? What’s going on? It sounds like you’re driving.”
“Yeah, I am. Listen, I’m not bothering you right now, am I?”
“No, not at all. I was just having a bite to eat before leaving for my ballroom dancing club. Grilled cheese, my favorite!”
“How did you know?”
“Look dear, I’m glad you called, really I am. But could you get to the point? I’ve got less than half my life left.”
“Oh, okay, yeah,” I said, partially distracted by a semi that had part of an airplane fuselage strapped to its trailer. You could see the seats inside and everything—it was like someone had chopped the front half of a plane off and decided to take it for a spin down the freeway. The airline’s logo was visible on the side too. The view didn’t instill confidence in the company, but then again, I’d never enjoyed flying to begin with. “Look, I think Grandma Flanders is in trouble.”
“Oh yeah? What has Marge gone and done this time?”
“I’m not exactly sure,” I said as I cut across a lane of traffic to get on a different freeway. Those kinds of indiscretions never counted when you were traveling, right?
“That’s a good start, but not a lot to go on.”
It all sounded so ridiculous that I hesitated to say it out loud. But unless G-ma was playing some spectacular prank on me, it was really happening.
“We’re in Florida,” I said. “Long story about how she got here, we can save that for another day. I came to take her back to Oklahoma but she ditched me at the airport.”
I paused, still debating …
“I think she might be in deep with some jewel thieves.” Oh my freaking goodness—the giant diamond in my luggage. I wonder what that would have looked like going through the TSA X-ray machine. Maybe it was a good thing that G-ma had given me the slip. Oh my double-freaking goodness—had I remembered to take the giant diamond out of the hotel safe?
Delphine must have asked me something, but I hadn’t heard her. I was lucky I hadn’t veered off the road.
“You really shouldn’t talk while you drive, dear. Let me get this straight. Marge is involved with thieves? Hmm. Now why doesn’t that surprise me?” said Delphine in a totally unsurprised-sounding voice.
“I don’t know. Why doesn’t that surprise you?” To my knowledge, my two grandmas didn’t know each other very well. But maybe I had been mistaken there too. Anything was possible at this point.
She stayed silent for a few seconds. “Okay. Where are you staying? I’ll be there by midnight.”
“How’s that possible?” I asked. “You can’t get here that fast from LA.”
She sighed. “I’m in Arlington. I can catch the next flight out from Reagan National within the hour.”
Since I had sort of forgotten to check out of the fancy Resort-Spa-Hotel-Place, technically I was still staying there, so I gave her my room number and she said she’d call as soon as she landed. We said our goodbyes and hung up, and I drove back to the resort, anxious to see if I’d left anything behind in my room.
By this point, you might be wondering why I called my grandma to help get my other grandma out of trouble. At least, I would be if I were you.
Delphine Lougheed was my grandma on my mom’s side. Mostly we just called her Delphine instead of Granny or Memaw or whatever, because she wasn’t the cute nickname kind of grandma. To be honest, I didn’t know all that much about her—she had always seemed like a mysterious figure, especially when I was a kid. We weren’t able to see her much because she lived so far away in exotic Pasadena, California. And even when we did try to get together, it was difficult to coordinate visits because of how much “traveling for work” she did. We were never quite sure what “work” was. I think my mom knew, but she never said, and always changed the subject when I asked.
About ten years ago, I’d managed to piece together a theory that Delphine was employed by a government agency. Or maybe an international agency? I didn’t know its name or purpose, even with my own security clearance. And I still wasn’t entirely sure she was retired, even though she was in her seventies like G-ma. It was all very nebulous.
What I knew for sure was that Grandma Delphine was a badass. She was smart, sassy, knew about different cultures all over the world, and one Christmas Eve after overdoing the eggnog, she let it slip that she could kill a man with a hairpin.
This was why when she originally told me she was going ballroom dancing in Pasadena but then changed her story to admit she was in Virginia, I didn’t think twice about it. It was par for the course in her line of work, whatever it was.
Naturally, as soon as G-ma Flanders had given me the slip, I knew I needed to call Delphine. I just hoped it wasn’t too late.
When I got to the resort, I went straight to my room, thankful that I’d not turned in my keycard. I was really losing my touch. As I silently admonished myself for going so soft, I opened the hotel safe and sighed with relief when I saw my sport socks still in there. Just to be sure, I took the diamond out and held it in my hand.
It was stunning, I’d never seen anything like it. Why on earth had I pocketed this thing? It had all happened so fast, like I’d acted on instinct. But what kind of instinct?
And I still wasn’t sure what to do about it. The right thing would have been to give it to Rolly, but I couldn’t do that without making myself look really, really bad. And without my FBI connections, looking bad to a cop would be even worse.
Instead of thinking it through, I put the diamond back in the socks and into the safe and proceeded to do what most people did when forced to face their future: pretended it didn’t exist.
Next, I ordered a fancy salad with grilled shrimp, feeling like I needed some veggies after that sandwich debacle. I also had to change clothes and put on something not covered in cheese. My UCLA sweatshirt seemed like a good choice.
It was about 10 p.m. by the time I’d eaten, and I was too wired to sleep. Maybe I could go by G-ma’s pad before Delphine got in and see if the Blingsters were having another party … or if maybe they were out. Who knew what kind of trouble they were getting into if they were out somewhere though. My head started to hurt just thinking about it.
I got my purse and began to rummage around in the little hidey-hole pocket thingies. (Honestly, why did some purses have so many compartments? This was why I usually stuck to messenger bags.) I was looking for a Tylenol, but all I came up with was a business card. For Detective Roland Magnussen. What a smarty pants! He must have thought he was being so clever, sneaking it into my purse at the Cheesecake Factory. Actually, that had been pretty clever.
Rolly picked up on the second ring. “Magnussen,” he said in a quiet, police detective-y voice. He sounded so smooth I forgot what I’d been planning to say.
“Shrimp,” I blurted. Then I slapped my hand to my forehead.
“Oh, it’s you.”
“You sound like every other man in my life,” I muttered.
“What’s new? Out on a date?” Oh my. I really needed to work on my social skills.
“As a matter of fact …” I could hear noises in the background. It sounded like music was blaring, and a car with a throaty V-8 engine started up. He was probably on a hot date and I had interrupted. “No. I’m working.”
“I can’t say.” It sounded like Roland fumbled the phone because what followed was a muffled “Dammit!” and the sound of the microphone rustling against fabric. “Where are you?” he asked when he’d regained control of his phone. “You better be back in Texas.”
“Oh, uh, sure. I’m nowhere near Florida. Just called to say hi.”
“I’m in Dallas sometimes for work. Conferences and such. I’ll look you up next time I’m there. We can … well …”
“See you later, Rolly.”
What an unproductive phone call. I’d been hoping to find out whether Detective Magnusson was anywhere near the beach house, but no dice. I’d just have to be extra careful when I went over there.
I parked about ten houses down from the Blingsters’ party pad, figuring that if Rolly was around, he’d probably have parked closer. There was no sign of his car anywhere, including down the street past the house. He must have been somewhere else entirely.
The house looked empty, or at least quiet. G-ma’s Benz was in the carport, but no other cars were around and the porch light was off. I crept up the stairs and let myself into the house. (No, the door was not unlocked and yes, I have some skills I haven’t told you about.)
Fortunately no one was home, so it was probably okay if I looked around a little. I waded through the living room, but was unsure what I was expecting to find, or where I should start looking. I also wasn’t sure what I wanted to find. But what I did find made my stomach drop.
On the dinette table in front of the sliding glass door was a box of bullets, some kind of hunting knife, and a few black velvet pouches. The kind you might expect to put loose diamonds in, like you see in the movies. I checked each one—empty.
Maybe these supplies were indications that the Blingsters had changed their minds about participating in any criminal activities and had gone to the casino instead. But maybe these were the leftover supplies. If the deadly-looking hunting knife was an extra item, I’d hate to see what knife (or knives) had made the cut. So to speak.
My heart couldn’t decide if it wanted to leap into my throat or drop into my stomach. Either way, I felt dread and had a bad feeling about what might be happening elsewhere in Florida at that moment.
I was about to look around the apartment more, but my phone buzzed in my back pocket. When I pulled it out, I saw Grandma Lougheed’s picture on the screen.
“Hello?” I whispered.
“I’m downstairs,” said Grandma.
“The resort doesn’t have an upstairs,” I whispered, confused by her declaration. “I left a keycard for you at the desk, so feel free to make yourself comfortable in the room. I’m out right now … picking up a pizza.”
“Well that’s nice, but I’m downstairs at the beach house you just broke into.”
“Hold on a sec.” I crept to the front door and peered down the stairs. Sure enough, there she was. She gave me an exasperated look as she pointedly pushed the End Call button on her phone.
Grandma Lougheed came up the steps and into the house, closing the door behind us.
“How did you do that?” I asked.
“Which part?” she asked.
“All of it! How did you get here so fast? How did you know where I was?”
“Griffin, there are some things about your Grandma Lougheed that should probably remain a mystery to you. Now, what have you found?”
“Bullets, a knife, and gemstone pouches.” I pointed to the table.
She didn’t say anything, instead heading for the back of the house. She went down the hall and silently opened each door, stuck her head in to look around, and closed it again. Her last stop was the kitchen, where she observed the tower of pizza boxes before joining me at the dinette table.
“Nine millimeter,” she said absently, picking up the box of bullets.
“Is that significant?” I asked.
“Probably not to you.”
Just then we heard a car door shutting right outside the house. Grandma clutched her purse to her side and crept to the window to look out onto the street. I tried to join her but got reprimanded.
“Stay back!” she hissed, and tried to push me away.
“Oh pish,” I said, and stood next to her.
“He looks dangerous,” Grandma whispered.
We watched as Detective Magnussen walked from his POS police car and disappeared under the house, probably looking at G-ma’s Benz.
“Nah, that’s just Rolly.” As soon as I said it, I realized he was in fact dangerous. He’d wring our necks for being in here. “Uh-oh.”
Ready for Part Five? Click here!
Copyright 2022 by Andrea C. Neil