Authors: Cheryl Bradshaw
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective
A few minutes later he pressed a button on his cell phone and turned his back toward the window. I sprinted for my car and got half way there when I felt it. The cold, hard ice collided with my gluteus maximus and I slid bum first down the hill. Pain shot through me like an ice pick and set off explosive fireworks inside my body. In my haste to escape I had forgotten all about the condition of the road. The pain overwhelmed me, but I managed to stand and I limped my way back to the safety of my car.
I had my hands on the steering wheel and my key in the ignition when Parker’s front porch light turned on. Clad in a pair of striped flannels and a cotton shirt, he opened the door. The envelope dropped to the ground. He didn’t seem to notice it at first when he crouched down to retrieve the newspaper. But then his eyes fixated on it and he picked it up and turned it over in his hand. He threw the newspaper into the house and then reached inside the envelope and extracted the index card. Parker stared at it for a moment and then took a step backward into the house and flipped a switch and the entire front yard lit up. It wouldn’t take long for him to see the prints I made in the snow. In his bare feet, he took a few steps further and focused his attention on the footsteps that went up the driveway. He scratched his forehead and then turned back toward the house. Right before he reached the door he spotted my size seven footprints in the snow and followed them across the lawn. He didn’t make it far before his bare feet reacted to the cold and he turned back toward the house. I didn’t wait for him to return.
The next day the afternoon sun struggled to shine through the clouds that served as a blockade against it. I sat on Parker’s street and waited. Parker’s car, a Porsche 911 that resembled the color of a canary, came as no surprise to me. All flash and flare and probably paid for in full with his daddy’s money. It was parked out front which meant it had already been out to play that day.
After some time my stomach indicated its discontent. I removed the lid off my bowl of brown rice and broccoli and reached for my water on the passenger seat and took a sip. It would have served as a healthy lunch would it not have been for the bag of chocolate chip cookies I had in my bag for dessert.
I glanced at my watch. Three hours had passed and there was no sign of Parker or the pudgy man in black. With my book read, my food gone, and Parker’s car still asleep in the driveway I took my leave. I didn’t have long before he would fly out again.
Nick answered the door clad in a black apron and gave me a complete 360.
“What do you think, is it me?”
“Lose the clothes and keep the apron,” I said.
He grabbed me by the waist and lifted me inside.
“Not so tight,” I said.
I set Lord Berkeley down and undid my jeans. I shimmied them down a few inches and revealed the outcome of my haphazard attempt at fleeing the scene the night before.
Nick pointed a pair of tongs at me.
“You’ve got some explaining to do.”
The bruises had taken on a nice purplish-blue effect which reminded me a of New Zealand sunset—almost.
Lord Berkeley smelled the aroma of beef and made his way to the kitchen. He sat about a foot away from Nick’s feet and stared and waited.
Nick cocked his thumb and trigger finger and aimed straight at him.
Lord Berkeley fell to the ground. He tilted his head to the side and closed his eyes and gave up the ghost. He remained still for a few dramatic moments until Nick gave him the
signal and then sprung back to life to claim his treat, a pint-sized bone of beef.
“I should leave him with you more often,” I said.
“Out with it then,” Nick said. “I want to know about those bruises.”
“Last night I staked out Charlotte’s ex-boyfriends place.”
“He wasn’t home at first so I waited,” I said. “And this guy pulls up with an envelope which he shoved into the door jam and then he left.”
“I thought so too so I checked it out.”
“Couldn’t leave it alone, could you,” he said.
“Of course not. But Charlotte’s ex came home before I made it back to my car,” I said.
“Let me guess. He saw you on his property and beat you on the butt with his snow shovel.”
“I was making my getaway and that’s when this happened,” I said, and pointed at the bruises.
Nick added some spices to the steaks and flipped them over.
“You run into something?”
“I fell, on solid ice,” I said.
I raised both palms upward.
“This is what I get for all my hard work and effort,” I said.
“Ouch, you’re missing some skin on those hands. He see you?”
“I managed to get out in time.”
“And the envelope, I’m guessing you opened it.”
“There was a note inside,” I said.
I told him what it said.
“Weird just got weirder.”
“I know,” I said.
“What about the guy who left the note, did you get a look at him?”
I shook my head.
“After he left it he got the hell out of there.”
Nick opened the fridge and cracked a can of beer open and took a swallow.
“I managed to get his license plate,” I said.
“Good. Give it to me and I’ll run it.”
“I’m capable of doing that myself,” I said.
“So am I. Don’t make me put a tracker on your car because you know I’ll do it.”
And he would.
“Will you at least consider being careful?” he said.
“I’ll try,” I said. “Can we eat?”
Nick had adorned the table with a pair of lit candles. Nothing too fancy, but for him the gesture spoke volumes. He walked over to the table sans the apron with two plates, one in each hand. He pressed two fingers together on his thumb and in his best French accent said, “And now for the piece de resistance.”
I tried not to, but I cracked up anyway.
My plate contained a steak, mashed potatoes, and mixed vegetables.
“And the fourth and fifth course?”
“We have some lovely rolls for zee lady and some red wine, lots of zee red wine.”
I took a bite of my steak. It was delicious and cooked to perfection. Nick hovered over me like Lord Berkeley did when he wanted praise.
“Excellent,” I said, “best bet I ever won.”
One meal and two glasses of wine later I felt satisfied. I rested my head on the back of Nick’s sofa and indulged in the last of my wine. I couldn’t decide what I enjoyed more, the warmth of the fire or the peace that came in silence. Nick came over and sat next to me with a perplexed look on his face.
“What’s on your mind,” I said.
He shifted his body weight to the side and faced me.
“You said we could talk about us that night at dinner and we didn’t.”
“I know I did. It’s just that we were having such a great time. I hoped it could wait,” I said.
“That’s what you always say when I try to talk to you.”
“I know, but—”
“Whatever you need to say, say it. Get it out. Putting it off until tomorrow or the next day or six months from now won’t make a difference.”
Therein lay the problem. I cared too much about his feelings to just put the words out there so they could hang in the air like a bunch of tiny daggers. It didn’t matter what I said, I had the uncanny ability to always say the wrong thing, and in this instance, I didn’t want to have any regrets.
I patted him on the thigh.
“I should get going,” I said. “I’ve got a long day tomorrow. Let’s do this later, okay?”
I started to get up and he grabbed my waist and pulled me back down.
“You over think everything,” he said. “Don’t you know that?”
“No I don’t.”
“Like hell. I can tell when I look at you. Your face gives it away. How can we ever have a decent relationship if we can’t communicate with each other?”
“We think so differently,” I said.
He buried his head in his palms and stared at the carpet.
“Does that mean we shouldn’t try?”
My attempt to stall him only made it worse. No matter how many times I went over this moment in my head I still didn’t know what to say. I knew he was frustrated with me, and I was even more frustrated with myself for not being able to make a decision.
“You know what you want, Nick. But I’m not sure I do,” I said.
“What does that even mean?”
“You see our lives together, our future. You want to make plans, take the next step in our relationship,” I said.
“And you don’t? I thought that’s what we both wanted.”
“I like what we have right now. I don’t know why we need to change it,” I said. “You have your place, I have mine. We are together almost every night. Why isn’t that enough—what is it about living together that means so much to you?”
“It’s what I want.”
The conversation wasn’t going anywhere, and I didn’t know what else to say so I said nothing.
Nick shook his head and then stood up and went into the bedroom and slammed the door behind him. Lord Berkeley raised his head to check on the commotion and then curled back up in a ball again. My body felt like it was trying to shut down, and there was no auto pilot I could engage to make me feel any better.
I sat on the sofa for the next ten minutes while Nick remained in his room. Part of me wanted to go in after him and the other wanted to leave. After a few more minutes, I left.
I kept a low-profile distance between myself and Parker. The canary yellow proved an unworthy adversary in a sea of otherwise white and grey cars. My Audi held steady as it zigged and zagged down Parley’s Canyon in an attempt to keep up.
Today my long hair was fastened with a rubber band and concealed beneath a brown paisley newsboy hat. I felt confident Parker hadn’t seen me a couple nights before, but I didn’t want to take any chances. When we reached the city, the sky changed color, a defenseless victim of the inversion. The once luminous skies mutated to ashy shades of gray that reminded me of murky pond water. I recalled a conversation I once had with a native of the beehive state who asked where I was from, and upon hearing my answer, turned up his nose at me in disgust. I believe the terminology used was
as if my sunny California air paled in comparison to the crisp, clean air in Utah. I wondered what he thought of his skies now. Eww indeed.
Parker merged onto the interstate at the bottom of the canyon and became harder to keep track of. With the additional lanes, he had a lot more room on which to perfect the art of the weave. He passed several exits before he bid farewell to the freeway and took the off ramp on sixth south. We approached the first red light and Parker revved his engine and sped right through it leaving me stuck behind two other vehicles. I drove around for the next fifteen minutes, but I saw no sign of him anywhere. According to Audrey, Parker’s schedule dictated he would fly out that night which meant today was my last chance if I didn’t want to wait another week.
I rounded third south and caught a glimpse of a shiny yellow diamond in the rough stationed in front of The Rusty Nail, a new restaurant in town. I parked my car and waited. The restaurant door opened some fifty minutes later and a woman in a bohemian style cap and long hair in loose braids stepped out and out stepped Parker with her. Her arm was intertwined with his. She tilted her head back and laughed and then nuzzled into his shoulder. He lifted back a piece of her blond locks and whispered something in her ear. Halfway across the street blondie stumbled a bit. I wondered if it had to do with the ridiculous four inch wedge shoes she wore, or if happy hour was to blame. She reached out to open the car door and he yanked her back and then grabbed the handle himself and opened it for her. What a perfect gentleman. Before she entered the car he dipped her backward and planted an impassioned kiss on her lips. With her back arched and her right heel raised, it had all the makings of a Billy Wilder movie. Time to roll the credits.
Blondie drove by and I jotted down her license plate number. I started to enter it into my computer when Parker started his engine. I assumed he would head straight for the airport so it came as a surprise when he turned his car in the opposite direction. His next stop was the flower shop where he emerged with a bouquet of lilies. He threw them in the passenger seat and drove to the Lakewood Chateau Townhomes. The valet at the front took his keys and with flowers in hand, Parker headed inside.
I parked non-valet in the only parking spot I could find at the end of the street and went in after him. I managed to slide inside without much notice and saw Parker enter the men’s room. Now all I had to do was wait. I stood a few feet away and examined a brochure of the place until he exited.
I crossed him diagonally and bumped him hard enough that the book and pen I carried fell from my hands and crashed onto the floor.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, “I wasn’t watching where I was going.”
He bent down and grasped my pen while I went for my book.
Our eyes locked and he grinned.
“No need to apologize,” he said.
I took my pen from his hand and our eyes connected again. This time I held his gaze a bit longer and smiled a half-sweet, half-seductive smile.
“Well,” I said, “thanks again.”
I turned and started for the door.
“Wait just a minute,” he said.
Hook, line, and sinker. It was too easy.
“At least give me your name before you leave.”
“Alright then. It’s Sloane.”
He stuck out his free hand.
“Good to meet you Sloane, I’m Parker.”
“Nice flowers,” I said.
He scrutinized them for a moment like he forgot they were there.
“Oh these, I bought them for my mother,” he said. “It’s her birthday tonight.”
It sounded truthful enough, but his eyes told a different story.
“Well, Parker. Nice to meet you,” I said.
“You live around here?”
“Not too far,” I said.
“I haven’t seen you before. I’m sure I would have remembered.”