Back to Part Two of Three
They had to stay, of course, and they used the phone at Beryl's house to contact people waiting on their pies, and St. Michael's Catholic, where Agnes and Clare worshiped and where they were headed next. They baked pies, fruit pies and rhubarb pies and pot pies and shepherd's pies. At first it was a charitable endeavor, especially around the holidays, and that's where a lot of these ones were going. But in recent years, and especially with two of them widowed now and searching for things to do, they were selling them. People loved their pot pies and shepherd's pies in particular, and Agnes's son was guiding them into some kind of full-time business. He'd even convinced them to set up a website in the new year. Here it was, four old women who'd known each other as schoolgirls, in days when they could believe in Christmas miracles, could still imagine the angels at work in their lives, four girls who drifted apart with marriage and family, and were now thick as thieves and becoming businesswomen. The Pie Ladies.
Beatrice was most upset by the turn of events. "I was just talking to him," she said.
"I knew that something seemed off," said Agnes, definitively. "I thought he'd just been drinking. But it must have been drugs."
"Well, that'd explain the accident," said the cop. "No idea where he went off the road?"
"We picked him up not ten miles back, but we never did see the car."
"I think he said it was on a sideroad. We were coming from the United Church where Beatrice goes... Back in Zurich, you know?" The lights of the police cars continued to flash, giving a strange luster to the snow, even under the blue sky. Cones had been set out roadside and a female officer in a vest stood watch. Beryl's visiting children and the older grandchildren gathered and gawked and offered hot chocolate and coffee. The cops each took a coffee.
"He got caught on my pin," said Beryl North. "And he was screaming and I.... I didn't know they’d picked up a man and then I was... Well, I must have been screaming and then...” She took a few deep breaths. "He ran. Like the devil was after him, he ran."
"Such a nice pin, too," said Clare.
The ambulance had come, but the man was beyond medical help. And the women assured the driver of the truck there was nothing he could've done, nothing at all, the man just bolted like that. Terrible timing, so close to Christmas. The truck driver had been strong, manly, but after talking to the police he sat in the snowbank with his hot chocolate and looked like one of the kids.
The other cop sipped from his coffee. He had been examining their car, and now he was looking at the ornament, hanging from Agnes's rear-view.
"Oh. That's Befana," she said. "Italian children. Some Portuguese, too, so my son says. They sometimes get presents on January 6-- the Feast of the Epiphany, when the Wise Men came-- from Befana. She's an old friendly witch-woman. You know, the Italian Santa. This one's on a broom, but my son says nowadays she drives an old-fashioned car. So he thought, as a sort of little joke, that I should have one for my old-fashioned station wagon this Christmas." She and the cop shared a laugh, in spite of the circumstances.
A couple sat silently in their house across from Rainbow Park. His new mask had been a hit, and her fire was as good as ever, and they'd been happy. The Solstice Party had gone so well this year, and the potluck afterwards such a success. His vegetarian chili received the highest praise, and the children loved the nachos and her bean dip, and everyone looked forward to another year, to renewal. Who among such a group would have stooped to theft? Who, knowing their acts would return on them, three-fold, would steal from a friend? The world seemed a sadder, darker place.
Christmas Eve, the family of skinny, twitchy, wild-eyed Gregory Stumbo, 1973-2000, filed out of a funeral home, with, it seemed, his last friend in the world, the big bearded man with long hair and sad eyes. He was escorted by a tall woman. Afterwards the pair stood awhile on the sidewalk. "We wish you wouldn't go to that place," she said. "That skeezy bar."
He spoke haltingly. "He had problems, Stumbo, but I never saw him hurt anyone. I never would have thought something like this would happen." He shook his head. "I didn't even get their license."
"You'll come for Christmas dinner? We've saved a place for you."
"Such good people," he said. They held each other awhile, standing on the sidewalk in the cold.