“My dear girl!”
The woman, a phantom clothed in shades of gray, rushed toward me out of the shadows at the edge of the parking lot, her arms outstretched as if she expected me to fall into her embrace. I took a quick glance at her, in case she was someone I might know or should be worried about, didn’t know her, also didn’t see any of the primary reasons to flee: blood, weapons, or the clipboard of some fanatic looking for signatures on a petition.
She was too well-dressed, clean and expensively-coifed to be a homeless panhandler – even in the rarified environs of the Malibu Colony, where we were, the homeless don’t wear cashmere sweaters.
It was ten o’clock, the night before Thanksgiving. Whatever her issues, I didn’t want to hear them. I’d had a long and brutal day and all I wanted was to get some groceries and go home. I hurried toward the market’s lighted windows, hoping to find sanctuary among other cranky, late-evening shoppers, doing my best to ignore her.
Normally, I would not have parked so far away from the market, but the lot was packed. There are only three supermarkets within the twenty-seven-mile-long oceanfront snake of land that makes up the City of Malibu. Beyond this market in the Malibu Colony, the next was eight miles up Pacific Coast Highway at Point Dume. So, for any local like me still in need of a turkey or any of the trimmings, this was the place.
I dodged a car backing out of its space, the spikey-haired driver distracted by his conversation via hands-free telephone. Or with voices only he could hear; the effect is the same, either way.
“Please, my dear,” my pursuer called, slowed by the same car swerving into her path, then picking up her pace when it was past. She seemed to be in pretty good shape for someone I guessed to be at the upper end of her sixties. “Just a moment, please.”
I kept walking. She appeared to be benign enough, but the pure delight in her face when she looked at me, as if she were the birthday girl and I her entire party, set off my alarms. Never before had anyone, not even my dear mother, ever been that happy to see me. Frankly, the happy sparkle in her eyes scared me.
Maybe she just had a snootful of holiday cheer. If so, I didn’t want to share her joy. I was not feeling the rise of holiday spirit, did not want to. I had lost my husband, the notorious and wonderful Detective Mike Flint, Robbery-Homicide Division, LAPD, to cancer the previous spring and absolutely dreaded going through the holidays ahead without him. With all the Ho-Ho-Ho junk all of a sudden popping up everywhere again, it took a lot of effort for me to keep up a façade of composure, and this annoying old girl hovering at my elbow was pecking away at fragile edges. I wanted to brush her off, get my groceries and go. But, because I was brought up by a proper Bostonian who taught me to respect my elders, instead of letting loose with any of the colorful, blistering versions of “Piss off” that occurred to me, I turned toward her, smiled blandly and asked her, “Do you need me to call 911 for you?”
The question seemed to confuse her for a moment, made her step falter. Then she shook her head and picked up her pace again. “No, no.”
“Then please excuse me.” I turned from her and kept walking.
“I need to speak with you.” She began to lope along beside me. “My dear, please, wait, just a word.”
I knew better than to stop. Now and then I am accosted by strangers because of my line of work. I produce pithy documentaries, Maggie MacGowen Investigates, for one of the big television networks. The series not only bears my name but also frequently shows my face, and that sometimes makes me a target. The people who are happy about my reports occasionally send me nice notes, addressed to the studio. But people who are angry about what I dig up have on occasion come gunning for me, usually verbally, a few times literally. I have learned to be wary. And, of course, a parking lot at night is not a place where a normal person would go hoping to initiate some chipper conversation with a stranger glimpsed on television.
“Do you not know who I am?” she implored. She had a pretty little accent that became more pronounced the more agitated she became. “Please, just for a moment, look at me.”
I glanced at her, saw not one scintilla of familiarity. I said, “Sorry, I don’t know you. Please excuse me.” And walked on.
“This is not where I wanted for our meeting to take place, my dear,” she persisted, taking the lead and then walking nearly backwards so that she could watch my face, or maybe, I, hers. “But this is where I find you. So…”
“Please,” I said, leaning away from her.
“You must know me in your heart.” She grabbed my forearm and pushed her face up close to mine, so close I could smell her shampoo. Stunned, I put my hand over hers to pry away her fingers, and as I did I glanced from the hand to her face, saw tears in her eyes.
She gasped, imploring, “Marguerite, I am your mother.”