Nearly Departed in Deadwood (10 page)

BOOK: Nearly Departed in Deadwood
6.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

      The engine ticked as I stepped onto the dirt-packed drive. The noon sun heated the top of my head, the smell of dust and baked pine thick in the still air. My sandals clapped along the front walkway, past several fly-covered garbage cans, past Kelly’s pink Huffy bike, past a pair of dead Thuja saplings.

      The Wymonds’ single-story clapboard home reminded me of some of the houses up in Lead—the ones Homestake Mining Company threw together to accommodate some of their miners during the gold rush glory days. Unadorned little square dwellings lined up block after block, interspersed periodically by elaborate Victorian and brick neighbors.

      Duct tape criss-crossed the Wymonds’ screen door, holding the mesh together. The front door stood open. A booming voice rang out, shouting something about a wrestling “smackdown” coming up next on channel 7. The doorbell lay in three pieces in a dirt-filled flowerpot near my feet.

      I shook off the urge to sprint to my Bronco and scurry back to the office. I owed it to Addy—and Kelly—to give the Wymonds family the benefit of the doubt. Not judge them by the single combat boot dangling from their gutter, nor the decapitated Barbie head nailed to their porch railing.

      Straightening my shoulders, I knocked twice on the screen door and held my breath. Twenty seconds passed by with the only movement coming from a fly that found me interesting. I knocked on the screen door again, this time harder and longer.

      “Kelly!” A gruff-sounding voice yelled out from somewhere inside the shadowy interior. “Get the goddamned door!”

      I winced. Strike one against Addy’s sleepover request.

      I heard the slap of bare feet on linoleum, then Kelly’s sad face appeared on the other side of the dust-crusted screen. I worked up a smile for her. “Hi, Kelly. Is your mom or dad here?”

      Her round eyes widened. “Why? Am I in trouble?”

      “Uh, no.”

      “Kelly!” The gruff voice hollered. “Who is it?”

      “If it’s about the kitten puke,” Kelly said in a loud whisper, leaning closer, “I told Addy we shouldn’t feed them the peanut-butter fudge ice cream.”

      “You fed them
ice cream?” I whispered back, my teeth grinding as I thought about Addy’s denial of any knowledge on the whereabouts of my pint of ice cream.

      “Kelly!” The voice roared, making us both jump.

      “It’s nobody, Dad.” Kelly held her index finger to her lips.

      I choked down my Addy-instigated anger and whispered, “I need to talk to your parents, Kelly.”

      She shook her head, motioning for me to leave, going so far as to start shutting the steel door in my face.

      “Kelly, wait,” I said at my usual volume.

      A large hand grabbed the door from the inside. I heard a squeal of protest and then the door opened. A grizzled-faced bear of a man in a stained white T-shirt filled the frame. Jeff Wymonds, I suspected, in the extra-large flesh. I could see hints of Kelly in his round eyes and narrow face.

      “Who are you?” His voice sounded slightly slurred and full of suspicion, his eyes drilled me through the screen. “Did the sheriff send you?”

      The smell of alcohol mixed with body odor slammed into me, knocking me back a step. Nice—drunk by lunchtime
expecting a visit from the law. Strike two, Addy dear.

      My cheeks trembled with the effort to hold up my smile. “You must be Kelly’s father, Jeff. I’m Violet Parker. My daughter is friends with Kelly. I’ve come to say hello.”

      His whole face crinkled into a glower. “Kelly doesn’t have any friends anymore.”

      His reply surprised me so much that the niceties I’d practiced all the way there from Harvey’s place jetted right out of my head. The only thing I could think to say was, “Is your wife here?”

      His glower scrunched into a snarl. “She’s at her mother’s.”

      “Do you know when she’ll be back?”

      His laugh sounded harsh. “When hell freezes over, as far as I’m concerned.”

      Now I’d heard Deadwood winters could be pretty brutal, but I didn’t think he was referring to the snowy season.

      “Well, would you look at the time. I guess I’d better be going.”

      “Are you married, Violet Parker?”

      Caught off-guard again, I told the truth. “No.”

      Jeff responded by gulping down the last of his beer and then crushing the can in his fist.

      I tried to peek around his bulk. “I’ll see you later, Kelly.”

      A faint “Bye” came from behind her father.

      Backing down the first of two porch steps, I nodded. “It was nice to meet you, Mr. Wymonds.”

      He pushed his face against the screen. The mesh bulged as he leered at me, his scruffy beard sticking out through the screen in spots. His gaze crawled down to my sandals and then back up to my chest. “Come back soon, Violet Parker.”

      Shudders of revulsion made my arms and legs tremble. There was something wrong with his eyes, like something inside his big, messy-haired skull had gone sour. I couldn’t believe Natalie ever shared a backseat with this inebriated hulk.

      Barely keeping my feet from galloping, I fast-walked toward the safety of my Bronco.

      “Hey, Violet Parker,” he called out when I reached the driver’s side door.

      The way he kept saying my name had a cheese-grater effect on my nerves. I pulled open the driver’s side door, pretending I hadn’t heard him.

      “I can see where your daughter gets her looks.”

      That knocked the wind out of me. How did he know what Addy looked like?

      A finger of dread crept up my spine. I locked my door. That was it. Strike three. The asshole was out. Addy was just going to have to hate me for the rest of her life, because there was no way in hell she was ever setting foot in Jeff Wymonds’ house as long as I breathed oxygen.

      As the engine rumbled to life, I stared at the steering wheel. Why was Kelly’s dad at home getting wasted in the middle of the day on a Thursday? Why wasn’t Kelly with her mom? Why had Jeff been expecting the sheriff? What exactly had the jerk meant when he said his daughter didn’t have any friends anymore? Did he have something to do with Kelly’s best friend disappearing? Did he have any connection to the other girls who were missing?

      Back to the most important question of all, how in the hell did he know what my daughter looked like? Had he seen her at the pool? Riding her bike around town? Or had he sought her out because she was a petite, blonde, nine-year-old girl—just like the other three?

      I glanced at the screen door as I backed out of the drive, expecting to still see the hulk’s face. The sight of Kelly standing there alone on the porch, waving at me, made the back of my throat burn.

      There was something wrong with that whole scenario. For Addy’s sake, I needed to find out what.


      * * *


      Back at Calamity Jane’s, Mona and Ray were arguing about the price of land in Mexico. I didn’t have the time to find out if that was related to the price of eggs in China, my dillying at Harvey’s and dallying at Kelly Wymonds’ had me racing to make my house-showing appointment with Doc.

      I paused long enough to download the pictures I’d taken of Harvey’s house, return Mona’s camera to her desk drawer, and wet my throat with a much-needed Diet Coke. Then I grabbed the MLS printouts I’d prepared for today’s house-hunting adventure and scooted toward the front door.

      “Where are you off to in such a hurry, Blondie?” Ray spoke with his usual demeaning tone.

      Oh, how I longed to cram one of my sandals down his throat, but I was wearing my only pair of Anne Klein sling-backs, so I resisted. “To show some houses.”

      I’d hoped to see something akin to fear in his eyes, the realization that his nephew’s future at Calamity Jane Realty was in danger. A smirk was all I got.

      “You really think you have a fighting chance this late in the game?”

      I backed against the door, pushing it open. Heat whooshed inside. “Kiss my ass, Ray.”

      The sound of his laughter followed me out onto the sidewalk, where Doc stood waiting for me. He had to be boiling in his black jeans and tan T-shirt, which hugged his broad shoulders.

      “Hi,” I said, squinting up at him. “I didn’t realize you were out here. You should have come inside where it’s cooler.”

      He shrugged. “I don’t mind the heat.”

      I did, from both the sun and Ray. “You ready to go?”

      “Sure.” He followed my lead, quiet until we climbed into my sizzling Bronco—parked one teeth-grinding block away from my usual spot. “Ray likes to give you a hard time, doesn’t he?”

      That was a loaded question. Bad-mouthing a coworker to a client was on Jane’s list of “No-Nos.” I cranked down the window and started the engine, trying to come up with a nice, non-insulting answer.

      “Ray can be ...”
a huge asshole, a colossal dickhead, a gargantuan bastard
. “Let’s just say Ray can be a little uncouth, sometimes. I’m sure he means no harm by it.” If I had been made of wood and string, my nose would have been crossing the North Dakota state line right about now.

      I could feel Doc’s eyes on me as I wheeled onto the street. I glued a smile on my face and pretended that working with Ray made swimming with blood-sucking leeches sound peachy-keen.

      The first house on my list didn’t look so bad, considering it was supposed to be haunted by a murdered prostitute named Lilly Devine.

      When Mona had informed me of this well-known rumor early this morning, I’d debated striking the place from today’s itinerary. However, she’d hushed my R-rated rant with one of her shoulder hugs and informed me that every other house in town was rumored to be haunted. With a history as greed-filled and violent as Deadwood’s, the ghosts probably outnumbered the living.

      If I believed in Casper and his wispy pals, Mona’s pep talk would have had me jumping at every groaning floor board and creaking door hinge. Fortunately, my fear of things that go “bump” in the night ebbed about the time my period kicked in. However, that didn’t mean I planned to broadcast to a client any superstitions about ghostly hangouts, especially when I was peddling the haunt to him.

      Shutting off the engine, I stared at the brick, Tudor-style cottage, the looming chimney and steep roof both desperate for some TLC. “What do you think? You want to see the inside?”

      “Sure.” He pushed open the door and stepped onto the cracked concrete drive.

      I followed him to the arched wooden door, handed him the printout detailing the property, and fished the key from the lockbox. The front door opened into a yellow living room carpeted in wall-to-wall, orange shag. I heard Doc inhale from behind me and peeked over my shoulder at him, expecting to see his nose wrinkled from the retro color choices or the odor of stale cigarette smoke.

      He caught my gaze. A hint of a smile crossed his lips. “Just a beanbag and lava lamp away from 1975.”

      “Maybe there’s hardwood under this.” I stomped on the carpet, the underlying padding thin, as outdated as the style.

      “Good try, Violet.”

      He stepped through the archway into the kitchen, pausing on the green linoleum covered with yellow curly designs. I trailed after him. The cabinets painted peach, the stove autumn gold, the fridge avocado. The built-in microwave appeared to be one of the pioneers of its kind.

      Now I understood why the pictures on the MLS data sheet had been in black and white. As I tried to think of a way to sell this place on something other than its looks, we strolled into the master bedroom. I blinked twice, feeling like I’d stepped onto the set of the Brady Bunch’s bedroom. Light blue, from the ceiling to carpet, filled every corner. The master bath boasted a bright pink toilet with a matching sink and bath.

      “Whoever picked out these colors must have been color-blind,” Doc said.

      “At least the drywall is in good shape.”

      “Is that the best you can come up with?” Doc stared down at me, his grin wide, inviting my lips to play copy cat. When he smiled at me like that, I could almost forget about his whole human bloodhound routine. Almost.

      “Well, the backyard
mowed,” I answered. After wading through Wolfgang’s yard, I thought this was at least a little improvement.

      His gaze moved to the box window. “Interesting fountain. Does the water actually spout from the gnome’s pen—”

      “Let’s check out the other bedrooms.” I grabbed his arm and pulled him back into the hall.

      The stench of stale cigarette smoke thickened as we approached the two bedrooms at the end of the dark hallway.

      “If you rip the carpet out, I bet that smell would disappear.”

      “What smell?” Doc asked.

      I stopped. He’d been sniffing through the place as usual. How could he miss the odor? “Are you a smoker?”

      He pushed open the door to the bedroom on the left. “Not since high school.”

      “Can’t you smell the cigarette smoke?”

      He inhaled deeper and longer than usual. “Sure, but it’s not that bad.”

      I stood on the threshold and gaped at him. Yesterday, the light scent of gardenias had sent him running and gagging from the house. Yet here we were, swimming in burnt tobacco from yesteryear, and he just shrugged it off?

      Treading after Doc as he moved across the hall, my shoulders tightened as he stepped into the last bedroom.

      According to Mona, Lilly Devine had been strangled by her “John” in this north-facing bedroom. Vertical skinny stripes of red, white, and blue covered the ceiling and ran down the walls to the fire-engine red carpet. A wave of vertigo had me leaning against the open door for support. If the wallpaper had been the same back then, I had an idea what drove the murderer to do it.

      “Whoa,” Doc backed out of the room, covering his eyes. “That hurts.”

      I flicked off the light and followed him back to the shag-filled living room. “Sorry. This place looked pretty good in the black-and-white pictures.”

BOOK: Nearly Departed in Deadwood
6.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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