It was Miss Peeg’s habit to pick up lunch from Andy’s and take it home to share with Michael Stanley. She called before picking up the salad and chicken casserole but he didn’t answer. It wasn’t unusual, he often ignored the phone.
"Take your time, Miss Peeg." Richie smiled as she fussed about her desk. "There’s no hurry to be back, I’ve got the shop."
"Thank you, Mr. Roberts. I’ll just, um…yes." She left and hurried over to the restaurant at the boarding house. Remembering Michael’s mints she made a quick stop across the street and then drove home.
Toni was enjoying a deep kiss from Travis. He was on his way to Coffs and planned to take an afternoon flight to Sydney to attend some business. "Take care, luv." He hugged her tightly.
"You too, how dare you go off without me." She pretend pouted.
"Only for a couple of days. Bye, Cole." He laid a hand on his son’s head before leaving with Kyle.
Toni watched him drive away from the front porch. There went her love. Cole hung on her leg and she picked him up. "Just you and me now, fella." There was Tomalina and Lee in the house and Glenridge was well peopled, but Travis was her sun. From him all life flowed for her.
Richie sat at his desk bouncing a pencil over a yellow legal pad. Was it to early to call Nonnie? Should he wait until around four o’clock, might his chances be better then? His phone rang and it was back to work but still on the edges of his mind was a bottle and Nonnie for the night.
Miss Peeg pulled up in front of her house and carefully carried the take-out lunch inside. "Michael, it’s lunch time." She put it on the counter and took the foam containers out of the bag. Pulling down two plates, "Michael." She called out again.
She checked his room and went to the back door. "Michael…lunch." A cold feeling came over her and she slowly opened the door and went out onto the terrace.
"Oh…oh…oh." She went down on her knees by him in slow motion. "Oh, no…Michael, no." She touched him, took his cold hand in hers and for a minute she rocked herself back and forth keening a little.
Her eyes took in the broken cup, the newspaper, "Oh, God." He’d been there since morning. "No, no, no." She knew he was gone and knew she had to move, had to stand and walk inside, had to find her phone in her large bag and call someone. There were few numbers in her speed dial. Michael’s, Richie Roberts, Amanda’s , and Toni’s. She hit the first one and it was Richie’s.
"Hold on a minute," He placed his call on hold. "Roberts."
"Oh…Mr. Roberts, can you come…it’s Michael."
"What? I’m on my way." He dispensed with his other call and ran to his car. His mind was whirling. Was he sick? Miss Peeg sounded not like herself.
By the time he got there she’d brought an afghan from the living room and covered him. He was so cold she said. Richie squatted down by Michael’s body feeling for a pulse in his neck. He looked up at Miss Peeg, "He’s gone."
She nodded quickly.
"Have you called emergency?"
"Oh, no, I…"
"Why don’t you go inside and sit down, Miss Peeg." Richie held the door for her and pulled out his phone. The emergency was over. He would call them, but first he called Toni.
"Richie, what’s up with you?"
"Um…I’m at Miss Peeg’s…uh you’d better come, your Dad is, ah. He’s gone, Toni."
"Gone…what do you mean?" Toni stopped mid stride.
"Passed on. So sorry, hon, so sorry."
Toni covered her mouth unable to speak.
"Is Travis there?"
"Want me to come and get you?"
"No, ah…I’m on my way." She ran into the house calling Lee.
"My Dad’s, um…I have to go. Watch Cole, for me, please."
"Oooo, I drive you."
"No, no, I can drive myself. Thanks Lee." She grabbed her purse and headed for the garage.
Richie went ahead and called the emergency number and told them the man had been dead for several hours. He didn’t know how many.
"Miss Peeg? Let me do that." She was trying to fill the kettle for tea.
"I’d rather…have something to do."
"Toni’s on her way."
"Good…there’s some biscuits in that tin up there…if you’ll…"
"Give it up." He took the kettle from her and wrapped his arms around her. She broke down and cried on his shoulder.
Travis’s plane was in the air. He called the house and Lee answered. "I don’t know, Mr. Travis, she gone to her Dad’s all upset."
"Oh, shit." He mumbled. "Thanks, Lee."
He tried Toni’s cell but she was driving and wiping tears and didn’t answer it.
By the time Toni got there the emergency services vehicle was in the yard.
Tom had taken the call at the ambo station. He listened quietly to Richie describing the scene at Miss Peeg’s cottage.
"Stevo, we gotta roll," he called to his partner.
They jumped into the ambo and headed out. Stevo reached over to put on the lights and sirens. Tom shook his head. "What?" Stevo asked.
"No siren, mate. It’s a recovery job."
"We’re going to Miss Peeg…"
"Not that nice lady in Richie’s office!" Stevo groaned. He hadn’t had too much to do with her, but when he and Jeff had business with Richie she’d always been more than pleasant to both of them.
"No, mate. Her fella, Michael."
Stevo frowned as they pulled up outside Miss Peeg’s cottage. Wasn’t he Toni McGee’s dad? This was turning into a bloody awful day.
They went inside with the stretcher and nodded silently to Richie, who pointed out to the terrace at the back of the house. Michael was still where he had fallen, but was wrapped in an afghan. If it wasn’t for his deathly white face and the slight bluish tinge to his lips, you could have thought he was asleep.
Tom bent down next to him and automatically checked for a pulse, even though he knew Michael had been dead for some hours. He felt, rather than heard, Richie behind him and looked up.
"Normally we would need to wait for the doc to pronounce before we move the deceased, but as we still don’t have one here in the village we called ahead to the Hozzie in Coffs. Doc Harper said to bring him right over."
Right then they heard a car pull up outside.
"Mrs. McGee’s here," Stevo said. "Could you stall her, Mr. Roberts, just while we get her dad onto the stretcher. Better than her seeing him laid out on the floor."