Even before my breakfast with Lillian I concluded whatever the police unearthed, a human body wasn’t going to be found. The website kept cycling through my head until finally I relented and plugged in my laptop, fired it up and hopped onto the ‘Net. Alas, I’m not a hacker. A novice web developer, yes; but once it goes into SQL and COBALT and a whole array of databases and programming languages, I’m a first class idiot. But oh, how I wished I could weasel my way into Jeff’s website. Something told me that if I could, many of my unanswered questions would be answered there.
I decided to take a different route, one that’s worked decently for me in the past—searching the ‘Net for key info. My preferred weapon: Google. I started with Jeff Danvers as a keyword search. The results were unsurprisingly benign. Even throwing them into quotes didn’t give much more help, so I moved on.
Far too many hits were returned when I queried the business name, so I left that search open in the Firefox browser tab and started a new search. Despite my red, irritated eyes, I sat up and stared at the new results. They weren’t exactly pay dirt, but promising just the same.
I spent only a little longer surfing the web until I simply couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. I closed the lid of the laptop, hastily got dressed for bed and promptly fell asleep.
Lillian looked like the cat that’d swallowed the canary the following morning when Alexandria and I caught up with her in the breakfast nook. She waved us over to the counter where a spread fit for a hotel stuffed with spring break students awaited us. It was amazing the woman didn’t weigh 300 pounds! Alex chose an orange and a yogurt cup then poured herself a cup of coffee from the white carafe while I debated between a banana and some granola crunch to top my yogurt—my own personal built-in weapon of antagonism. I knew Lillian was anxious to tell us something, but whenever someone uses that tactic, I tend to fight back deploying my own methods of annoyance. But I forgot: Lillian is a lawyer and unlike little sisters, doesn’t cave in so easily.
Halfway through the crunch of my breakfast yogurt combo, I relented.
“So, when are you planning on telling us what they found?” I ran my spoon around the edge of the cup, gathering yogurt, granola and banana. “Sometime soon, I hope because it’s as plain as the sun rising up over your shoulder pads you know something.”
Lillian chuckled. “I do. I’m just curious as to how you did.”
“If you think I’m going to tell you before you tell me what they found, you better think again,” I grinned, then shoved the spoon into my mouth.
“Fine,” she smoothed her napkin next to the saucer and removed the spoon from her cup of tea, resting it on the napkin. “They found a crude bomb shelter of sorts complete with a port-a-potty, dried food packages, batteries and some magazines.”
“But no body.”
“Correct. They dusted for prints and took some swabs for DNA analysis and are running those now.”
“They’re Jeff’s.” As if it wasn’t obvious. “I guess the question is, did he go in willingly or was he put there against his will?”
“And yet,” Lillian paused, her teacup suspended midway between the saucer and her lips. “What kept me awake was your friend Dan’s statement: ‘She’ll kills me at sunrise.’”
“At or by?”
“Either way,” Lillian forged ahead as she lowered the cup. “What do you suppose he meant?”
“The police haven’t gotten any answers?” I pushed the empty cup of yogurt aside. Lillian shook her head. “Even if they know, I doubt I’d hear of it. They don’t know about your involvement, remember?”
“Is there a way you can,” I shrugged. “Find out?”
“Without letting on?” She eyed me. I nodded. “Possibly. I’ve yet to figure out how, though, at least without creating problems for us, or, more appropriately—for you.”
Alex rolled her wrist and glanced at her watch, a move that didn’t escape Lillian or me.
“Dwayne will take you to campus,” Lillian said crisply. Together we moved away from the table hastily to grab our things.
“I meant Alexandria,” Lillian said as she stared out the window at a jay that had managed to run off a few squirrels hanging around the birdbath. Her eyes shifted towards me. “You, on the other hand, have been excused from today’s classes.”
“Maybe so,” I eyed her. “But if you don’t mind, I’d prefer to make this call. After all, I am the one paying you.”
“Your parents are, or should I say, my old friend, Amanda Waters is paying. My implicit directives are to ensure your safety. Therefore, you will be staying here where I can ensure such.” I was appalled she pulled that card out of the deck so early on, but I wasn’t quick to acquiesce either. If she was such a close friend of my mother’s she should know she was in for a fight. The apple doesn’t’ fall far from the tree.
“Great. However, seeing that you still have yet to determine how much of a risk I’m facing within the past eighteen plus hours you’ve had and you’re costing us as much as my tuition, I think Dwayne can expand his brain a bit and accompany me to school…” Lillian frowned in a way that reminded me of my mother when she thoroughly disapproved—her forehead wrinkled, her jaw protruded and yet she still maintained her stately aura. My own resolve wavered inwardly, yet I remained sturdy by all other affects.
“Being bullheaded serves no on, including yourself,” she said in a perversely quiet, flat voice. “Your professors have already been contacted as has the dean and arrangements for you to continue your studies have been put into motion,” she rose from her seat like a prima ballerina rising up from the stage floor into a graceful, mesmerizing dance. “Now, I cannot keep you against your will even if I think such is utterly preposterous and completely, futilely foolish. But I would advise you to be careful with your decision.”
Dag nabbit. It would have been so much easier if she didn’t’ fight fair; even easier if she had gone for the jugular and demanded to know how I came to the conclusions I had that led the police to Jeff’s buried shelter. I stole a glance at Alexandria whose wide faced expression mirrored my own astonishment, but whom also fought to control a smile. Apparently she drew some sort of pleasure from seeing me put into my place. Not that I could blame her. One of the disadvantages of being my roommate was being subjected to test runs of debate team ideas and issues for which she always was ill prepared. Her claim was that I took unfair advantage of her lack of willingness to participate.
I limply returned to my room and moped about for the next few hours until I tired of doing nothing constructive.
Chess has always been a game I’ve enjoyed playing when faced with unlocking secrets that involved exercising the brain. It was a “tradition” my father started when I was young, that we would work together to solve math problems and other complications by playing chess as a way of “opening” the brain. Except he never went easy on me and I always would wind up losing. “You’re getting better,” he announced on my thirteenth birthday after playing three games in a row. “Gave me a pretty good run for my money.”
It was that year I saved my babysitting money and allowance and bought myself an electronic computerized chessboard and secretly played against it in the wee hours of the night. Once I began winning –at level one, mind you—I challenged him to another game. For the first time ever, I won and began winning on a fairly frequent basis. When he discovered the hidden chessboard, I thought he’d be upset with me, using unfair advantage. Instead, he was proud of me for utilizing my resources and being serious about training my mind to overcome the obstacles. And when he presented me with the laptop as I prepared to go to school, I found out he loaded a chess software program and tucked into the manual buried in with the other software manuals and warranties he left me a note telling me how very proud he was of me.
I opened the program and decided to play a few games to see if that would help turn over my new avenues to examine in my own case. I came pretty close to a stalemate when those silly ads started prying at my brain. That along with my statistics class assignment. The two thoughts seemed to be engaged in their own little game. And that’s when I started doing some research.
The first thing I did was return to Jeff Danvers’ website and jotted down the types of ads he’d run over the past eighteen months. A trend developed. It appeared he started pushing his synthetic lawn solution in late April. Pushing was an understatement; he was going at it with both barrels loaded, going from small 1/8-page ads to full page ones that ran on Wednesday and Sunday.
Strange; he didn’t seem to have a big enough business to finance the ads deluge and from what I could piece together, he hadn’t even had the capitol to get a large enough loan to cover the campaign.
On a whim, I pulled up the manufacturer’s website. It was a glitzy site, well endowed with flash movie clips and carefully chosen customer testimonials, but what caught my attention was the lack of any real substance. Had I no knowledge of the product, I doubt I would have left their site feeling any more educated in their product then I had when I first logged onto it.
Buried deep in the site, which I only found by using Google’s “search this site only” option, I landed on a small blurb about franchise opportunities. My next idea cost me the rest of my afternoon. Using the sparse web development skills I had, I fashioned a site for a mock landscape business. I kept it simple which was pretty difficult for me because that meant creating tables that had those hideous borders complete with shading to give it a “3-D affect.”
I added some counters set to start at a high enough hit count to make it appear legitimate, then created a few Yahoo email accounts before publishing the website. Once everything was in place, I composed my inquiry letter to the manufacturer and left it in my draft file to send the next morning. Not a moment too soon as Lillian, Dwayne and Alexandria returned with several cartons of Chinese take-out.
“The police are quite interested in you,” Lillian said as she speared an egg roll with her disposable wooden chopsticks. “Seems they’re quite curious as to what gave you the idea that fake bomb shelter was buried out back of the Danvers’ house.”
“Just a hunch,” I shrugged as I pulled some chow mien out of the tilted carton I held over my plate then passed the carton to Alexandra.
“A hunch?” Lillian tittered. I ignored the jab as I worked on extracting some sweet and sour shrimp, attempting to leave the crudely large square pieces of bell pepper in the container. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d guess you had been in that yard before Crum and his group were there.”
“That would be trespassing,” I squeezed my sticks around an egg roll and lifted it out of the carton onto my growing plate of food.
“Indeed. Although, as your attorney, I would be unable to say this to the police and would advise, if such an event had occurred, that it not be divulged to the police as well.”
“What difference does it, or would it, make?” I moved the food on my plate around a bit and decided I had more than enough on it.