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The Stranger at the Cemetery

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In the grand city park, all the leaves not touched by the cold sun were still covered in the night’s frost. A woman in an impeccably tailored suit strode unblinking through the patches of light and shadow to the burnished doors of a skyscraper. She never broke her stride as she entered the building. Her heels sounded on the marble floor of the lobby until they were muffled by the faded, grubby elevator carpet.

Two levels up a young lawyer smiled as the doors jarred open only to flush at the stern disapproval on the face of Ms. Cavins. The janitor on the eleventh floor said her name respectfully as she passed but was not certain of her having heard him. A senior partner on the forty-ninth floor distractedly asked her when Mr. Mattick would be available for a consultation. She demurred, reminded the senior partner that Mr. Mattick was out of the country at present and his current appointments were being held, and she would ascertain a suitable date for a consultation if the senior partner would send her several tentative dates. The senior partner continued reading his paper and gave an appreciative nod, stepping out promptly as the elevator chimed for the sixty seventh floor.

“Thank you, Miss Cavanaugh.”

Several floors later she crossed the hall and took a second elevator, this time with a key.

She breathed a short sigh as she stepped into the penthouse suite. The receptionist’s desk was empty and dark, and the offices beyond it were shuttered. She pressed on.

Mr. Mattick’s office, too, was empty. The sun seemed stronger at this elevation and made dust motes in the light from the tall windows. She sidestepped the wide mahogany desk at the end of the room and took a clean ashtray from the bottom drawer.

“Here, kitty, kitty!” She called and clicked her tongue. Out of her purse she took a can opener and a tin of something fishy.

A muffled cry came from behind one of the damask curtains and a small furry creature trundled out onto the Persian carpet and stretched in a haphazard sort of way. A muffled thump was heard near the liquor cabinet as a second cat leaped down from a decorative shelf and began yowling for its dinner.

Having distracted the cats, Ms. Cavins sat at her own desk—near Mr. Mattick’s, but smaller and plainer and situated with an efficient typewriter. She brought out a battered five-year calendar and began to rummage through it for dates and appointments. She wrote several new ones in and transcribed recurring events.

Last night she had attended a dinner party on Mr. Mattick’s behalf; he was out of the country and his date of return was not yet settled. Soon, she expected. His business affairs were dreadfully complicated once he was overseas and she hesitated to relay his exact schedule as it was probably inaccurate at this point in time. It was extremely gracious of her host to accept her thanks on his behalf and Mr. Mattick had no prepared statement about the president, party affiliates, or anyone else until he returned to the country. Soon, she expected. Thank you and good night.

A short note—a very short note—of thanks was due her host before the afternoon post went out.

She turned the page of the calendar to today’s date. Ms. Cavins pursed her lips and exhaled sharply through her nose. It was too late to order flowers; she would have to go herself.

The penthouse was unnaturally silent. Floors below, she could hear the distant sounds of the elevator going up and down, and the air circulation fans rattling away. The cats batted a small piece of paper across the floor.

Ms. Cavins counted the number of necessary phone calls before she picked up the receiver. No, Mr. Mattick was busy at the moment but she could handle any business emergencies that may arise. Mr. Mattick would call them back at a more convenient time. Mr. Mattick had no desire to deal with lower echelons of a particular company and preferred to speak with a chief executive officer. Please make an appointment. Mr. Mattick has declined the offer of an interview by the City Herald but if you would address any questions to his office, someone would be happy to take his dictated answers. Mr. Mattick’s office was closed to the general public.

In the afternoon, she put on her hat, scarf, and gloves, and repeated the trek down to the ground floor. The cats were napping in the sunshine of the tall windows behind Mr. Mattick’s mahogany desk.

Her eyes were steel, again, and she talked to nobody as she exited. Hailing a taxi, she made a stop at a popular florist before directing him to the cemetery. Out of the close darkness of the cab, now smelling all of lilies, she stepped onto the smooth pavement and then the freezing wet grass. Never uncertain, she continued along the winding grave markers and the pristine landscape until she came to a clean white stone.

Ms. Cavins gathered herself together for a moment of reverent silence, then lay the flowers down gently on the grave. In large capital letters in the center of the marker read the word “MOTHER” followed by a name in smaller print underneath: Martha Ellery Mattick.

Mary Cavins waited several minutes--no, a half an hour—in silent reflection before she actually jumped in alarm at the sound of a dog barking at her elbow.