“Delilah Danvers?” One of the women at the corner table gasped, then quickly covered her pink lacquered lips with pink taffeta colored nails. Her pale blue eyes opened wide enough to reveal the full whites.
“Plain as day,” another nodded smugly.
“I can’t picture it,” a third interjected.
Trying as hard as I could to find something else to do that would afford me more time to eavesdrop without getting fired for screwing off, I quickly palmed the neighboring table’s saltshaker and deftly emptied it into the trash, then fiddled around in the nearby service station refilling it.
“That’s why I noticed,” the second woman said. She shook her shoulder length, expertly highlighted frock of hair back so it fell behind her, then tugged annoyingly at a piece that refused to move with the rest. “The weird part is, they haven’t seen him since.”
“Nothing?” Pinkie raised her perfectly plucked brows. The other two women tittered.
“Not one thing,” Highlights beamed.
“Order up!” Ben called from the back. God how I wished I could magically split into two right then and there. Damn Bush and the UN for putting a halt to cloning. Damn them all.
I scurried off to gather the four warm plates off the counter, avoiding Ben’s piercing stare and rushed them to the opposite side of the diner.
“Some horseradish, please,” asked the heavyset man swaddled in a suit that pulled dangerously around his belly, straining against the machine’s stitches.
“Anything else?” I kept my voice light. If I gave them any indication I was distracted, as a rule of thumb, two things occur. First, they order crap they have no intention of using, they just do it to piss you off by not making them the center of your world and (2) you can kiss your tip good bye.
“Some ranch, please?” The birdlike woman with the beaklike nose asked.
“Sure. Can I refill your tea?”
“Thanks,” she smiled. She kind of reminded me of Barbra Streisand without that funky crossed eye thing going on. On my way back to the service area, I glanced over at my gossip gals. My heart raced. It seemed like they were wrapping things up as they were pulling their purses up off the floor, backs of chairs and Pinkie seemed to produce one from her lap. I should have guessed hers would be pink, too. She was like a walking ad for breast cancer awareness. I absentmindedly adjusted my bra strap.
I hurried to gather the items my table ordered, almost forgetting Streisand’s tea. As I pushed the lip of a fresh cup under the beverage spout, I looked back to my gals. Well, they weren’t mine exactly. They were at Denise’s table, her last before she clocked out. Even though she was supposed to be off at 2:00 and it was already 2:10, she probably already punched out. She had this stupid rule that she finish up serving her table instead of passing it along to the server on duty; said it wasn’t fair to her customers. Of course, I didn’t’ have a leg to stand on even though technically it was against Nate’s policies. He was pleased as punch because her “ethics” saved him money.
I deposited the dressing, horseradish and tea at my table and quickly disappeared, purposefully timing it so their mouths were too full to make anymore requests.
“There’s still some of our lite cheesecake left,” I announced to Denise as I moved towards her and her table.
“Lite?” Highlights swiveled her head around towards me. I nodded, then quickly averted my eyes to Denise. “Oh, sorry. You’re off the clock, aren’t you?”
“That’s okay,” she smiled widely, and then turned to the women.
“Tell you what,” I stepped up. “Why don’t you ladies go ahead and settle up with Denise so she can get on her way, then I’ll take your orders for some of our special lite cheesecake. Order four and pay for three. Sound good?” I was willing to pay for the fourth just so I could continue eavesdropping.
Of course they all were delighted and if that bothered Denise, she never gave even the slightest indication. How’s that for some quick thinking?
I left her to handle the check as I slipped back over to my own table to take care of them, then to the counter to slice the cheesecake “de-lite” into four pieces and settled them onto plates that I tucked back into the pie cooler case before sweeping back up on the dessert ladies.
“They’re all yours,” Denise smiled sweetly. Apparently she thought nothing of my rather underhanded maneuver. Any other time that would have pissed me off because it’s like blaring your horn at the idiot who cut you off only to have them wave instead of flipping you off. But I was too focused on the secrets they were sharing and the hope of getting more juicy details to let it bother me.
“Would you like some espresso to go with your lite cheesecake?” I suggested, pad in hand, pen poised.
“That would be lovely!” Pinkie trilled.
“Make mine with an extra shot,” the bottled blonde requested.
“Just tea for me,” Highlights added.
“Iced or hot?”
“Hot, please. With extra lemon, no honey.”
“Nothing, except maybe more water,” a poodle-y redhead answered as I looked towards her. I went on with their requests for toppings, not bothering to tell them that was what was loaded with the cottage-cheese thighs calories and hustled off hoping they’d revive their earlier conversation during my absence.
“…right out back by that hideous shed,” Highlights had said when I arrived. “I swear on my niece’s life it was a hole big enough to dump an elephant inside!”
“The one that took him three months to build?” Pinkie began as I slid her berry sauce topped slice of cheesecake in front of her, but both of us caught Bozo the Clown’s stern look of reproach.
“Anything else?” I offered, scooping up discarded napkins and Equal wrappers. There was the usual inventory pause, then a murmur of “no’s.” “Okay, well, I’m Lisa, so if you need anything, just let me know. I’ll be back to check on you in a bit.”
“Thanks,” I heard a couple of the women say as I left them and returned to the Streisand and Company table where Tim, our dishwasher/busboy had begun working on clearing it.
“Can I interest anyone in dessert?” I asked as I picked up a few plates and passed them off to Tim.
“Just the check,” the large man said with a belching moan.
“Be right back,” I scrambled off to close out their bill.
I never did glean anything else from my gossip gals, except for an address. It wasn’t our policy to check IDs when a credit card is used, but I did anyway just so I could memorize Highlights info and jot it down before I forgot. Cedar Street. That wasn’t too far out of my way home. Maybe I’d drive by after work just to see what I could see.
On my way out to my ancient Honda whose transmission was in desperate need of an overhaul, my cell phone buzzed about in my pocket. It was Dan, a guy I’d been seeing for a few weeks, wanting to get together a little later. I figured my little adventure could wait. After all, Dan and his buddies spent a lot of their time working n their cars and my hope was convincing them to repair mine. I couldn’t very well get to that “level” if I turned him down, especially seeing I had to earlier in the week because I had a paper due in my lit class.
“Really?” He sounded genuinely surprised. I bit my lower lip. Was he hoping I wouldn’t agree?
“Well, yeah, unless…”
Okay, maybe I was the one hoping it was an empty offer.
“I’ll pick you up at six.”
“Six thirty would be better. I’m just now getting off work and have a few things to do.” I pulled open the car door that screeched in anguished protest.
“That’s fine,” he bubbled.
Even though I didn’t have time to hunt down Highlight’s house, I slowed up a tad as I passed the entrance to the semi-exclusive upscale subdivision. A Benz whooshed past then slowed at the corner. I glanced over, and then quickly looked away. The excited jump of adrenaline that came from my perceived “almost got caught” moment coursed through my veins.
“Shit, that was close,” I breathed as I eased into my assigned parking slot at the complex.
“Yo, Tatum!” my neighbor, Abram, called out as he emerged from the dumpster area. It was our little joke. On the very first day we introduced ourselves to one another two semesters ago only steps away from where we were standing then; he said that I reminded him of the younger Tatum O’Neil. Well, so long as it wasn’t Tatum’s father, Ryan, I was good.
“Hey,” I tossed him a small smile as I yanked my red Swiss Army backpack out of the back seat then hip-slammed the door shut. We both winced with the car’s prolonged moan.
“Worked today?” He waited for me to join him.
“Yep,” I locked the car door and fingered through the remaining keys in my palm for the one that’d let me into the apartment.
“We’re hiring again,” he informed me, shoving his hands into his jeans pockets as he shrugged up his shoulders against the sharp blast of cold air.
“Already? Didn’t they just hire a bunch of people not long ago?” We walked together.
“We did, but they just opened a new office up in Cresset and are transferring over half the IT department there. Rumor is they’re going to merge with Bluant Technologies by the end of the year, too.”
“Merge? Or are they taking over?” I glanced over at him as we crossed over into the deepening shadows of the long three-story building.
“Taking over. You should check into it. They’ve got a pretty decent benefits program and are soft towards students.” He drew up to a stop as the sidewalk forked. His second floor unit was down a section from my third floor one.
“Maybe I should,” I nodded noncommittally.
“I’ll drop by with some information. Be around tomorrow?”
“In and out,” I lied. I actually had planned to stay in and work on my speech for class since my roommate, Alexandria, was leaving in the morning to go home for the weekend. “If I’m not in, you can just leave it in my mailbox.”
“Okay,” he nodded a bit reluctantly. “See you later.
“Yep. See ya,” I called over my shoulder before bounding up the first flight of stairs.
According to the note left on the pass-through between the small dining area cluttered with books and notepads and the tiny kitchen, Alexandria was staying at her boyfriend’s for the night and would be back in the morning. No doubt just long enough to get her things and go. I crumpled the note up and tossed it into the trash as I checked the answering machine. No new messages. The digital display read four-fifteen. I decided to change and make an appearance at the complex’s clubhouse gym for a rejuvenating job on the treadmill before returning to shower and change and expect Dan to drop by to pick me up. Friday afternoons were usually quiet in the small exercise room crammed with outdated gym cast-off equipment. That meant I was pretty much assured I could be left to my own thoughts while I ran.
Only just when you hope for something to go a certain way, that’s when there’s some sort of tear in the cosmos. Pinned to the door was a sign announcing the gym was closed for remodeling and wouldn’t be open until the following spring. I searched the bulletin nearby in hopes of finding some sort of explanation or even a copy of the notice that had been sent out to tenants. Nothing. No explanation whatsoever.
My anger rose, burning the back of my throat, as my face grew hot. I probably could have run several times around the complex and might have if it weren’t so blinging cold. Instead I marched back towards my apartment, taking the route that would lead me past the manager’s unit. I had no intention of knocking on his door, but if I saw him, I was preparing to give him a piece of my mind.
We paid extra to have a gym on site and closing it down at the start of winter was the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. After all, that’s when most people would use it, right? When it’s too cold or wet to be outside in the pool or just jogging, that’s when the gym’s going to be used!
He got lucky– I never did see him. I burst into my apartment, nearly slamming the door behind me, only catching it before it crashed into it’s frame because, my brain screamed at me, it wasn’t my neighbor’s fault the gym was closed.
I steered myself towards the phone to call my dad and inform him of the closure. He’d know how to handle this and I had no doubt he would especially seeing he was footing two-thirds of my share of the rent.
Punching in the number to his office, I listened as it rang on the other end.
“Braunby and associates, Tina speaking,” my dad’s assistant greeted me. “How may I help you?”
“Hi Tina, it’s Lisa. Is my dad there?” I pulled the towel from around my neck and dropped it onto a nearby chair.
“Just a sec, sweetie. Let me see if he’s able to take your call,” she replied and put me on hold before I could interject my objection. I wondered if he was in a meeting. This could wait; I didn’t need to be interrupting. I toe-heeled out of my shoes and then pushed them under the chair.
“Hi, Leese,” Dad greeted me cheerfully. I found myself smiling despite my anger. It was so good to hear his voice and yet, bittersweet because I suddenly felt the twang of homesickness.
“Hi Dad. Gotta minute?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
Without even realizing it at first, I looked up at the ceiling, our little joke. Whenever he asked that, normally I’d answer: the ceiling. Instead I quickly recounted the gym catastrophe.
“Aw crap, sweetie,” he startled me by saying. “I’m sorry, that’s my fault, not Harry’s. I got a notice in the mail weeks ago about the closure and meant to tell you. They’re giving us a partial refund and a discount because of it. Apparently they found some pretty big problems and felt it was important for safety reasons to fix them.”
“Oh,” I was left to say. “Well, shoot…”
“They worked out an agreement with a gym nearby. Darn Leese, I really screwed up. I meant to send you your guest passes they sent me for you to use.”
“It’s okay, Dad. But you owe me now!”
He chuckled and my heart signed.
“I’ll call your mother right now and have her drop those in the mail, okay?”
After chatting a bit longer with my dad, I went to take my shower, stepping into the steamy hot spray feeling like a deflated balloon. My only reprieve was having the luxury of staying in until the water ran cold knowing I didn’t have to save the heated water for Alexandria.
It helped too. I was more relaxed and even spent a half an hour catching up on some of my reading for school before Dan came by to take me out for the evening.
The next morning I headed out early to a study group. I worked at a small boutique on the weekends in a strip mall just a few doors down from a coffee shop, so it worked out nicely to meet with several classmates early Saturday morning and then slip off to work right after. It wasn’t until I left for my study group that I remembered wanting to hunt down Highlights—or rather, her neighbor with the ugly do-it-yourself prepackaged storage shed her husband hastily assembled. Even then, I threw the thought aside as I rushed to get out the door, already running late. I didn’t even get a chance to read the first page of the newspaper as I dashed out of the apartment and down to my car, leaving the newspaper tossed inside on the floor.
I drove past the intersection where I saw Highlights turn in and merely glanced over, feeling a bit wistful, a tad remorseful even. From what I overheard I had conjured up a few brilliant conclusions. The most well formed, fully defined thought was that Highlights’ neighbor, Jeff, had gone missing and shortly after his disappearance, Jeff’s wife had been seen digging a very large hole next to the shed. Didn’t the gossip gals mention the woman’s name? Yes, yes they had. D.D. I distinctly recalled. Delilah Denver, Delilah Dancer, Delilah Drawers… Danvers! That’s right! She’d been the one. I tried to picture her, but my mind was too focused on the painfully slow moving car ahead of me and the pickup truck zipping up on me at a frighteningly high rate of speed. Not much room to afford conjuring up a woman digging a grave. Yes, that’s what I had concluded. Delilah Danvers had killed, and then buried her husband/boyfriend out back.
These thoughts eroded my brain as I swung the Honda into the parking lot of the strip mall. My brain churned, so deep in thought I never heard Victoria calling out to me.
“What’s up with you?” She asked breathily as we reached for the coffee shop’s door. Her English accent could have been mistaken as a rather snobbish greeting. Thankfully I’ve known her long enough to know she was just genuinely concerned.
“Huh?” I gazed at her, a bit dazed. “Sorry, my mind’s on overload I guess.”
“I’ll say,” she chuckled, holding the door open for me. I slid in past. “Understandable at this point in the term.” I wasn’t about to correct her line of thinking. “Can I get you something?”
“Um, yeah, sure. A mocha?” I struggled with backpack slung over my shoulder, the outer pouch eluding me as if intentionally. “Hang on, let me see if I have enough cash on me first.”
“Don’t sweat it,” she waved me off. “I’ll let you get the next one.”
I froze. “Are you sure? Because…”
“Of course I am. Now, go on and see if the others are here. I’ll get our order and be there after I get done.”
“Well, okay,” I released my back. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it,” she turned to the server on the other side of the baked goods display case. My stomach mumbled from under my blouse.
“Hey, hey,” Randy looked up from the paper he’d been reading as I ambled up to the small grouping of chairs at the back. Sheila, one of the other members of our group, glanced up from her textbook and smiled.
I yanked a chair out from under the table where Randy was seated. “Victoria’s ordering, she’ll be here in a moment,” I said over the noise of the chair’s legs scraping across the floor. Both nodded. “Where’s Pete?”
“He messaged me just a bit ago. He’s still at work and isn’t sure he’ll make it, but will try,” Randy said, gathering up the paper to make room.
“That’s too bad,” I slid into my chair. “Are you buying it?”
Randy shrugged while Sheila snorted and rolled her eyes.
“Buying what?” Victoria carried the coffees. I turned and reached out to help.
“Pete’s still at work and may not make it,” Sheila offered as she got up and moved up with the rest of us to the table.
“He always has a creative excuse for not coming, doesn’t he?” Victoria’s brows slid up from under her glasses onto her smooth forehead. Randy snorted. I glanced at the paper he was folding.
“Mind if I look at that?” I asked, eyeing the front page.
“Not at all,” he pushed it over. “Just leave it when you’re done.”
“Cook, thanks,” I pushed it aside and yanked my notebook out of my pack. I hadn’t intended on reading it much less looking seeing I’d have a half an hour to kill after our meeting, but the bold print halfway down the page caught my eye. “Police seek answers in missing person case.” I couldn’t help wondering if this had anything to do with my Gossip Gals.
As Randy, a good ten years older than the rest of us, started off our group meeting, I skimmed over the article, half-listening to what he was saying. “It’s been two weeks since Jeff Danvers…” I tuned Randy completely out at that point. My mind raced. Was it possible that’s what the Gossip Gals were talking about? I took a deep breath. Slow down! Think!
I blinked then smiled sheepishly. “ Sorry, what?”
“Everything alright?” Sheila asked. I shook my head. Should I tell them what I overheard the day before? Or should I feign worry over leaving something on at my apartment and excuse myself?
“What’s wrong?” Victoria leaned forward, visibly concerned. Well, Lisa, time to make your decision.
“I’m trying to remember if I turned off the iron before I left,” I let my eyes wander about the group. Apparently it was believable; they all seemed to show some concern, even alarm. “It’s okay. I’m pretty sure I did.”
“Lisa!” Shield seemed more freaked out than the situation warranted. “Go! Check just to be on the safe side. You really can’t take that risk even if you’re heavily insured.”
“I agree,” Randy nodded. Victoria’s head bobbed up and down. “Don’t worry, we’ll email you and let you know what we did today. But let us know so we’re not worried, ‘kay?”
“Are you sure?” The three nodded emphatically. “Well, okay. Sorry for being a flake.”
“Hardly,” Sheila scoffed.
Even though I weaseled out of study group easily, it dawned on me I still hadn’t a clue what I should do. I already began regretting telling the lie—what if they could have helped sort it out, even pointed out errors in my reasoning? Should I tell the police what I overheard? What if I didn’t?
My thought tumbled around in my head like a comforter and a handful of loose changed tossed into a dryer, clanging about mercilessly. I fired up the Honda’s engine and threw it into reverse, carefully backing up then cranking it into drive as I headed out of the lot.
I drove in the direction of my apartment, which was also the same direction of Highlights’ posh subdivision. The intersection loomed ahead, but I was in the wrong lane to turn in. I looked into the rearview mirror expecting to see a string of cars coming up from behind me. There was only one car, but it was far behind. I turned my attention to the side view mirror. Nothing there either. My hand pushed the turn signal lever down. I looked over my shoulder. “Last chance,” I breathed. It was clear.
The car shifted lanes easily, as if it had a mind of its own and before I realized it, I turned into the subdivision. According to the street sign, I was on 11th. The first street to cross eleventh had been Ash and then, right after, I crossed Beechnut. I pulled my foot away from the accelerator guessing the next street would most likely be Cedar. Sure enough, it was. I turned right and began looking at the house numbers since there weren’t any cars parked alongside the street or even left in the driveways, which ruled out finding Highlights’ Benz. Reaching into the pocket of my backpack, I pulled out the slip of paper I’d written Highlights’ address on. Seven fifty Cedar, I’d written. The house number on the pole read 510. The next was 512. Two blocks to go.
The street curved to the left a bit, and then straightened out as I crossed Forrest Lane Circle. Six hundred. The street circled right and an Escalade lumbered past. The windows were too darkened to make out the driver.
Turned out I didn’t’ need to look for the addresses as the street jogged left again and a cop car parked behind an unmarked car loomed ahead. A driveway across and just past had been blocked by a news van. My stomach churned.
What now, Nancy Drew? I craned my neck as I eased by. There was nothing to see. I turned right onto Wooding Avenue and circled about the house that sat on a corner lot, continuing on towards Ash as I knitted my way back onto eleventh. Clearly there was nothing I could do except put myself smack into the middle of the police department’s investigation by hanging around there, so I decided to return to the apartment. I needed to sort things out in my head and had an hour before my shift started to do that.
The minute I stepped into my apartment the phone rang. I quickly tossed my keys onto the counter and sprinted for the phone, careful to check the caller ID first. It was my best friend, Helena.
“Hi,” I said after interrupting the third chortle.
“Did I wake you?” Her voice was garbled, filled with static. I pressed the receiver closer to my ear.
“Nope. Where are you? I’m getting a lot of static.”
“That better? She asked, her voice much clearer.
“Wow, yeah. What happened?”
“I was outside getting the mail. I guess I was too far away from the base.”
“Oh.” I opened the fridge and pulled out a container of yogurt and checked the date. It was still good. “What’s up?”
“I wanted to call to see if you were still planning on coming up Thanksgiving weekend.”
“Of course,” I reached into the utensil drawer and pulled out a spoon. “I’ll be flying in at seven-thirty Thursday evening. Are you going to be able to pick me up?”
“You bet I will! I’m so excited!”
“Me too,” I had to force myself to sound enthusiastic. I was excited, it’s just with all that was going on, I was sufficiently preoccupied.
“Really?” She said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Because you don’t sound like it.” Leave it to Helena to pick up on that. I decided to bring her up to speed and began recounting the past several hours of events to her.
“Well,” she said slowly after I finished. I spooned the yogurt into my mouth as she continued. “It could very well be that you were hearing several conversations that just blended together. For all you know, the second part of their conversation could have been gossip about someone entirely different who might be gardening for the first time and was seen digging a hole that was ridiculously too big.”
“True,” she had a valid point, I decided. “But what if that was what they were talkinga bout? What if she did kill him and buried him out back and no one ever looks?”
“What’s your point, Lisa?”
“Isn’t that withholding valuable information in an ongoing investigation?” I tossed out the yogurt cup. She laughed.
“You watch way too much TV,” she finally replied.
“I wish that were true,” I sighed as I rinsed off my spoon and then put it into the dishwasher. “I don’t have time.”
“Well, that seems like a bit of a stretch to warrant going to the police,” her tone was more serious. “I wouldn’t, if I were you.”
“You have a point,” I signed. “I just wish there was a way to know.”
“Don’t even think about it!”
“I know you well enough to know you’ll go snooping around to get the answers. Don’t, Lisa. You‘ll only wind up getting yourself into trouble. Remember back in elementary school when you…”
“Okay, okay. Let’s not rehash that one again. You made your point,” I said as I moved towards where I left the morning paper.
“Yes, I’m sure. I’ve got enough going on as it is. Speaking of which…”
“You have to go.”
“Yep. I’m working today and don’t’ want to be late. I’m hoping to get a raise and that’s not going to happen if I show up late.”
“Well, I hope you get it. I’ll email you later. Have a good day and stay out of trouble.”
“Ha, ha. Very funny,” I teased, then in a more genuine tone: “Nice talking to you. Thanks for calling.”
“You bet,” she said before we hung up. Once again I lied. I seemed to be doing an awful lot of that lately. I wondered if I was starting a trend. I waited a beat then picked up the phone to call in sick to work. But even as I dialed, I deiced that wouldn’t be a good idea after all especially since I couldn’t do anything anyway about Highlights’ neighbors’ situation- at least not in broad daylight.
I came home from work exhausted. The owner had decided to have a preseason sale to get a jump on the department and chain stores before the holiday season went into full swing. I don’t think even she expected the turnout we had. It was non-stop from the minute we opened until ten hours later when we closed. It was so crazy, I’d already worked a half an hour into overtime before any of us realized it. She decided I might as well stay and cough up the extra money to pay me time and a half than to wind up losing customers if I left.
My body ached, especially my calves, ankles and feet. They cried out in agony as I pulled myself up the final flight of stairs into my apartment. God, what I wouldn’t had given at that moment but to have been able to sit in the Jacuzzi for an hour or tow.
Prioritizing at that moment was difficult. I was ravenously hungry, exhausted and in pain. Yet I had an empty fridge, bare cupboards, no bathtub and a sofa that was uncomfortable to sit on let alone lie on and prop my feet up. I settled for peanut butter caked onto Saltines, another hot shower and then fell into bed after dragging the cushions off the sofa in to prop my feet up.
I woke up several hours later, the room still midnight black, drenched in sweat. I had dreamt of being buried alive. I knew then and there I couldn’t’ just sit back and not do anything about poor Jeff Danvers, convinced I had a premonition and that his life depended on me.
Yes me, a 5’3” ninety-seven pound size 0 undergrad at California State University at Bayou with undeclared still checked in the degree declaration box.
I would have dressed in black; only the ski cap I own is a champagne colored cap with poofs of forest green balls encircling the edge. I wouldn’t’ have worn it at all if I hadn’t had blonde hair so light it almost glows in the dark. I figured if it didn’t allow me to fade into the night, the least it could do was disfigure my appearance enough to prevent anyone from giving a good enough description of me to the police.
I don’t own or have the need for a shovel, but ruled out going to Wal-Mart to buy one. With my luck, the security cameras would monitor my purchase along with a date and time stamp that would only add to the police’s case against me if I were caught.
It only stood to reason there’d be a shovel somewhere nearby Jeff’s gravesite. I filled my water bottle, plotting away as the tap water gurgled. I’d drive there, park down the street a block away, then walk the rest of the way. Maybe I should drive by first just to make sure it was clear. Highlights lived at 750 Cedar so that mean Jeff was buried out behind 752. It was a corner lot as I recalled so gaining entrance should be easier. I could always scale the fence by the shed, slip down and prowl about virtually unseen. That had to be better than trying to go through or over a gate that would rattle against the hardware.
I grabbed my wallet out of my purse along with my cell phone and car keys. The wallet would stay in the glove box, my cell still set on vibe, tucked into my back pocket and the small set of keys, once I left the car, would slip into my front pocket of the black jeans I wore.
I held my breath from the start of the seven hundred block past 752. Not one single house had a car, SUV, truck or even garbage can sitting in the driveway. I had noticed each intersection was lit up by a streetlight, but the one outside the Danvers had burnt out. Coincidence or purposefully? I was leaning towards the later.
Not a soul appeared to be awake, not even those prone to insomnia. Even though they probably had reason to lie awake, worried about the little people their CEO was taking advantage of or if the report numbers for the quarterly report would side in their favor or if their significant other had any idea they were being unfaithful—they all had the advantage of paying cash to a therapist in exchange for potent knock-out drugs. Instead of losing sleep, their troubles came in form of drug induced, stress toppled symbolized nightmares that lined the therapy translator’s pockets in gold and ermine pelts. Must be nice.
The car door popped, the engine pinged but the wee hours of the morning remained silent. Odd. Shouldn’t there at least be barking dogs warning off prowlers?
“Stephanie put hers down last week,” I recalled a customer saying a few weeks earlier at the diner. “Said with the number of attacks on women and babies with these new breeds of dogs, she’d rather pay top dollar for a security system then take the chance of having her baby eaten.”
Okay, so maybe that was why I hadn’t heard barking dogs. I hesitated as I glanced around. It was as if a crop of recently planted metal flowers suddenly bloomed. Almost every lawn was marked with a small blue and silver sign shaped like a stop sign that read: protected by Tangent Security. Crap. That didn’t sound good.
I pressed my body against the long redwood fence, taking care to step over the sporadic sprouts of bushes and flowers. I inadvertently brushed up against the wood planks and froze, holding my breath, waiting to hear alarms clanging into the cold air. Nothing. I moved slowly down the length of the fence. Should I be worried I triggered a silent alarm and any minute a police car would come screeching up? Maybe they didn’t’ wire the fences. Maybe it was too expensive or maybe more of a hassle than it was worth. They still lived in a relatively rural area where feral cats roamed, raccoons had been known to raid trashcans and an occasional opossum would play a catty game of dead or alive. It seemed even the most difficult to persuade security nut would uninstall an extended perimeter alarm after the first couple of cat balancing high-jinx. With that resolve, I pressed on.
Jumping over a 6-foot tall fence was going to be a bit tricky especially since I’m almost a foot short. Couple that with the well hidden fact I’m an awful jumper, as indicated in my sixth grade President’s physical fitness test and I probably should have hung it up then and there. Except I couldn’t shake the vision I had of Jeff Danvers’ slowly slipping away in his grave.
As I trailed along the fence, I caught sight of the roof of the shed. Thankfully it was backed up against the corner of the fence near where I walked. Apparently he wasn’t as stupid as Highlights and the Gossip Gals led me to believe. He’d left a good couple of feet between the sides of the shed and the fenced off property line. Hoo-rah! I didn’t even bother looking for a discarded tree bucket or a gardener’s trolley forgotten and left out alongside the fence. Chances were, the gardeners these people hired were meticulous in cleaning up after themselves or it could have been they all were members of a homeowners association that specifically forbade them to leave items like that just lying about.
Inching up to the ideal section of the fence, I reached up as high as I could, then swiveled my head about to see if anyone was looking. That probably was a waste of time, the reflection of the lamplights glancing off the highly polished windows made it seem as if I was looking at a sheet of Reynolds wrap aluminum foil and for the windows that weren’t affected by the streetlights, they were so dark, a whole room full of people could be standing there watching and I’d never know the difference. Turning my focus back on the fence, I jumped just a smidgen, my fingers reaching as high as possible up the plank. I was within inches of grabbing hold of the top, but as my fingertips breezed back down, a few splinters sheered into the pads.
God, I was such an idiot! I shoved my fists into my pockets and pulled out my ski gloves and pushed my burning fingers inside. On my second jump, I gave it more umph, caught hold of the top and just hung there, toes grazing the ground.
Crud, now what? I tried swinging my hips back and forth to get a pendulum motion going and hopefully my feet and legs would follow until I realized how idiotic that idea was and dropped back down. What the hell was I thinking? Clearly this was an upper body maneuver. I’d have to pull up until my waist was at the top, swing one leg over, pivot, pull the other over and then drop. If my jumps were sad, my pull-ups were pathetic. Maybe I should have brought a step ladder or even stopped off and bought myself an energy drink.
I looked up. Boy did it look like a long way up! And then perched on top, waist high, another two and a half feet above? My body shuddered at the thought. I tried to push it out of my head but like a puppy dog shadowing its master, the thought kept slipping back in place. To think, out of my exhaustion, my hunger, I woke up in the middle of the night to schlep around a complete stranger’s backyard in search of a dead or nearly dead body while confronting my weaknesses and fears.
What the hell was I thinking?
An eerily cold blast slapped down my neck and my response was nothing short of fantastic. I shot up, clenched the top of the fence and pulled hard; so hard I almost propelled myself over headlong into the cement apron that jutted out past the shed. My heard thumped so hard I could hear it in my ears. As I caught myself, I clung to the top and flattened out on my stomach. It was both awkward and uncomfortable. So was the next maneuver as I swung my leg up and over thumping it on the support board that ran the length of the section I was splayed across. The fence twanged like a diving board. I clamped my hands down and peeked out from under my cap. Waiting for several breaths and only when I felt fairly certain I hadn’t roused anyone, I pulled my other leg over until both hung below me, then fell into the soft ground below.
It was darker and the rich soil smelled more fragrant, a blend of turned dirt, fertilizer and recently mown grass. A distant streetlight reflected off the top of the shed and left me feeling like it was alive and scowling down at me, as if ordering me to leave, post-haste.
I looked around, up across the lawn, past a small patio with a stainless steel gas grill, a shadowy shape that appeared to be a bar and a couple of stools, a table and chairs on the opposite end with a closed-down umbrella protruding up from the center.
It was two-story Spanish looking house with sliding glass doors leading out to the patio. The second story began with a balcony and then a row of windows set back a ways.
The houses themselves weren’t very old; most had been built within the past year, some as recent as six months ago. From the looks of the grass, I guessed this was an older one, although they could have laid sod and I’d never known the difference at least not without more light.
Highlights’ house was a virtual duplicate of Danvers’. The only difference I saw was their balcony windows had arches over them and it looked like they had some sort of patio cover protruding from the first floor exterior wall. I studied the house, trying to picture where Highlights may have been standing when she saw Delilah digging Jeff’s grave.
I pinched my brows together as I tried to recall what she said; something about next to the shed. I looked back. Probably not right out front, because of the cement apron- and not around back for a couple of reason. First, it was too narrow to wield a shovel much less topple Jeff’s body in. Second, I doubt Highlights would have been able to see it. She did say it was big, too. Not a snowball’s chance in hell you’d be able to dig a “big hole” out back. Therefore, logically speaking, Jeff’s grave had to be alongside the shed, the opposite side of the fence.
I stumbled across the uneven ground to the side. The shadows were exceptionally dark, so much so even with straining my eyes until the soft spot at the bridge of my nose ached. I couldn’t’ make out anything. I stepped carefully closer, using the soles of my shoes as “feelers.”