Authors: Doug McCall
Black Rose Writing
© 2011 by Doug McCall
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine or journal.
The final approval for this literary material is granted by the author.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
PUBLISHED BY BLACK ROSE WRITING
Printed in the United States of America
Beneath Forbidden Ground
is printed in Times New Roman
The Forbidden Gardens does exist, just outside the town of Katy, Texas. At the time of publication of this story, it remains open from Fridays through Sundays, assuming agreeable weather conditions, given the fact it is primarily an outdoor attraction.
The I-45 murders, unfortunately, also occurred, as anyone living in the vicinity of Houston during those tragic years can attest. Other than these two exceptions, this is a work of fiction, based on no particular events or characters. For an I-45 murder non-fiction read, please consider another Black Rose title,
The Sheriff's Son
by Wayne Skarka and “Butch” Campsey.
I would like to express my appreciation to Sandra Goff, for the exceptional depiction of the tone of my story, illustrated by her cover design. In addition, my thanks to Reagan Rothe and Black Rose Writing for shepherding the publication of my story from start to finish.
Beneath Forbidden Ground
Spring – 1991
The sun was reduced to a glint, diffused through the gathering grey clouds of the somber February afternoon. In spite of the gloom, there was only a slight chance of rain—finally. Or so the weather drones had promised. She hated rain, so hopefully they were accurate for a change. The elements had a profound effect on her mood, matching the conditions surrounding her. Crappy weather brought on a crappy disposition, sometimes bordering on depression. Sunny skies buoyed her attitude, which she used to brighten the day for all who came in contact with her. She had no control over these drastic shifts —it was simply the way she was.
Betty Lynn Thomas eased her 1988 Toyota Corolla to a stop at yet another intersection, squinting to read once again the instructions she had scratched on a piece of paper the day before, instructions given her by the lady at the meeting, also the day before. Her confusion existed due to the fact her destination had no street number. Matter of fact, it wasn’t really a street she was seeking, but one of the flat, narrow country roadways that seemed to lead to nowhere in western Harris County, Texas. It was all nondescript, scraggly farmland, soon to be former farmland. Only a few head of cattle roamed here and there, having what remained of the brown grass all to themselves, a lazy, meandering smorgasborg.
The territory Betty Lynn found herself in was near the edge of the county, butting-up against Waller County. For all she knew she could be
the neighboring county, since it all looked the same to her. She had been driving for over thirty minutes, now so far out she was well beyond the last of the housing developments, sprouting up westerly from the city of Houston, as if dropped in place over-night. The growth in this direction was frenetic—nonstop.
Without street numbers, her only guide was a count of the turns she had made after exiting Highway 290, the expressway leading northwest from the city, along with mileage measurements between turns. Taking a reading of the odometer, she made what she hoped would be the last turn, then began watching the odometer turn over until she had progressed six tenths of a mile. Just after 5:00 p m; she knew dusk was no more than an hour away, all the more reason to get an accurate reading. However long this particular meeting would last, she was already dreading the long drive back into town surrounded by the darkness of night.
There was a queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach when finally spotting the double-wide trailer she sought, a reaction she felt was due to how important this trip was to her, rather than the remote location. The lady who had sent her on this assignment assured her the job was hers, it was a done deal. But Betty Lynn had been burned before on “sure things”. The fact that she had met the others who would be here did lift her spirits some, but not enough to keep the dampness from her armpits. She couldn’t recall the names of the other girls—not that it mattered.
No one in her small circle of friends and family knew about this appointment, least of all her mother in Conroe. No sense in disappointing her with premature news until the job was definitely hers. There had been let-downs before, and she didn’t want it to happen again. Ejecting the Reba McEntyre cassette from the slot, she turned into the dirt and gravel driveway leading back to the trailer. The rumbling in her stomach grew stronger. She tried to quiet the feeling, telling herself it would all be over within the hour—one way or the other.
The double-wide, appearing to be a makeshift office of sorts, sat back from the county road a hundred feet or so, surrounded by a few pieces of earth-moving equipment and stacked drainage pipe, evidently waiting to be installed. A large billboard, propped-up by two-by-fours serving as bracing, stood roughly halfway between the road and the trailer, clearly within sight of the road. It read:
COMING SOON: CYPRESS BRIDGE ACRES
DESTINED TO BE THE PREMIER ADDRESS IN HARRIS COUNTY
CHOOSE YOUR PRIME LOT EARLY
Pulling to a stop near the front of the office, she saw three other vehicles similar to hers: a Chevrolet Camarro; an ancient Nissan Sentra that seemed to be hanging by a thread; and a Honda Civic, appearing to be the newest of the four small cars. The only other vehicle was an enormous Ford F150 extended cab pickup, spattered with mud, parked at the far end of the trailer.
Before exiting the Corolla, she fluffed up her blond curls, then ran a finger around her lips while peering into the rearview mirror. “Well, here goes nuthin,” she muttered to herself. Stepping from the car, she tugged on her beige knee-length skirt, then walked on unsteady legs up the wooden steps to the door.
Inside, she was glad to see the other three girls from the day before, all welcoming her with silent smiles of recognition. Two sat on a vinyl sofa across from the entry door, and the third occupied a metal office chair well away from the other two, her dark legs crossed. A wooden desk sat at one end of the room. Behind it, and off to one side, was a hallway, leading most likely to another room or two, one probably a restroom. The lingering stench of tobacco hung in the room, leaving Betty Lynn with the strong impression that if she visited the restroom she would find discarded butts swimming in the toilet bowl.
Since no one spoke right away, Betty Lynn decided to break the ice. Shyness was not one of her traits.
“Hi. Didn’t get your names yesterday. I’m Betty Lynn Thomas.” Seeing the sofa held no more room, she found a folding chair leaning against the wall inside the door, opened it, then took her seat near the dark-skinned girl while the earlier arrivals responded.
One of the women on the sofa, an auburn-haired beauty wearing all navy blue replied, “I’m Laura—Laura French.” Exposing her last name seemed to be an afterthought. She added a warm smile. Possessing a fresh look, she was the All-American girl-next-door.
When the girl next to her didn’t ring-in right away, the one in the chair did. “Freda Juarez,” she said, speaking very clearly, an obvious attempt to hide the fact her English was okay, but not perfect.
Betty Lynn sized her up. Her bronzed skin was flawless, contrasting nicely with a light-colored blouse and denim skirt. She was Hispanic, but her country of origin could only be a guess. Every Central American country, plus some from South America, were well represented in south Texas, particularly in the Houston area. She appeared nervous, as if she didn’t feel she belonged here; perhaps the reason the three sat so far apart. But similar to the first girl, she was gorgeous.
The three looked at the remaining entrant, who appeared to be the only one showing a hint of attitude. She finally identified herself, with only a faint smile and a shake of her head. “Tammy Crews.” It was a pronouncement, as if the name alone should mean something to the others.
Betty Lynn pegged her right away as a silver-spoon type, old Houston money. Maybe an oil man’s daughter, or granddaughter. Her pageboy blond do and designer clothes, along with her air of superiority made Betty Lynn wonder why the girl had bothered to show up along with riff-raff such as herself. She was also struck by the general appearance of the women assembled, herself included. She was vain enough to know she was better looking than average, and these other three were all knockouts; entries in this bizarre, informal beauty pageant.
“So,” she said, “anybody got any idea exactly what we’re doing here? I wasn’t told much yesterday.”
Auburn-haired Laura answered, “We’re going to be salesmen—or rather, salespeople. I was the first to show up, and the man in charge was here then, before the rest of you got here.” She paused to gaze at the others. “He said we were going to be selling lots for homes here. We’ll be paid a small salary at first, then go on commissions when things start to take off.”
“How long will the job last?” Freda asked hopefully.
“Well, he said he has plans to sell around 500 parcels, as he calls them. So it could last for awhile. Maybe a few years.”
The Hispanic girl nodded. The answer seemed to encourage her.
“Don’t we need real estate licenses for that?” Tammy Crews asked, a pouty frown showing.
“He said he’d take care of all that,” Laura answered.
The room was quiet for a second, then Betty Lynn glanced toward the hallway. She could make out no sounds of any one else in the trailer. The distinct smell of nicotine seemed to adhere to each piece of furniture. “Where is he now?” she asked.
“He had to go out back, behind the office. Said he needed to straighten something out with somebody. Shouldn’t be too long, he said.” Laura looked at her thin watch, dangling loosely from her wrist. “But he’s been out there almost twenty minutes now.” Her voice sounded doubtful, but not necessarily worried.
“And what’s this man’s name?” Tammy asked, starting to appear bored by the whole thing.
“You know,” Laura replied, a frown indicating annoyance at the other girl’s arrogance, “he told me his name, but I didn’t catch it. Too nervous, I guess.”
Betty Lynn was getting antsy too. She pushed herself from her chair, then approached a window facing behind the trailer. She pulled a draw string to raise the cheap plastic blinds covering the glass panes. Peering through the fading daylight, her eyes took a minute to develop the scene outside. Two figures gradually came into focus—a relatively large man standing near a smaller man, both with hands on hips. They seemed to be teetering on the edge of a pit of sorts, taking turns looking into the distance. Taking a closer look, she could now recognize what appeared to be a large, dredged-out area, perhaps a lake, a feature of the coming development. Many upscale neighborhoods had similar drawing cards to serve as an enticement.