Nearly Departed in Deadwood (2 page)

BOOK: Nearly Departed in Deadwood
12.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

      Swearing, I cruised through one parking lot after another, finally sliding into a too-tight spot three blocks from the office. The meter ate every bit of spare change from my ashtray.

      By the time I yanked open Calamity Jane’s front door, I’d shucked my jacket and sweat beaded my upper lip. A whoosh of cool air sprinkled with a hint of jasmine swirled around me as I stomped to my desk and flung my jacket on it.

      Mona, my coworker, new-found friend, and mentor all wrapped in one stunning, flame-haired package, placed a Post-It on my phone. Another stronger whiff of jasmine hit me. “You okay, Vi?”

      “No.” I glared around the office. “Where’s Ray?” Should I poke the jerk in the eye or bust his kneecap for sending me out to Harvey’s without mentioning the old man’s ardor for his gun?

      “He’s showing the place on Dakota Street to that cute young couple who were in here the other day.”

      “You mean the Rupps?” I flopped into my chair and snarled at Ray’s empty seat.

      Mona smiled. “They’re so sweet, the way they’re constantly giving each other those googly-eyed stares.”

      Pushing fifty, Mona had yet to land her happily-ever-after. Her rose-colored glasses rarely left her face, for her true love might be the next man she met ... or the one after.

      “They came in looking for you, but Ray couldn’t reach you on your cell.”

      That’s because I was out in the sticks playing spin the bottle with a loony old kook.

      “So he took them out himself.”

      “Wait a second!” I sat up straight, suddenly realizing what she was saying. “Those were

      “The house is a real fixer-upper. I doubt they’ll be interested.”

      For Ray’s sake, I hoped she was right. I picked up the Post-It and stared at Mona’s writing. “What did Layne want?”

      “He said something about finding a skeleton in the backyard and needing you to pick up a jar of worms on your way home.”

      Some days, my son made electroshock therapy sound appealing. I reached for the phone.

      Ray Underhill burst through the front door, his face furrowed, his fake tan two shades redder than usual.

      “Who in the hell let them put this shit in our front window again?” He ripped free a piece of paper taped to the plate-glass and held it out.

Missing: Nine Year Old Girl
it read in bold letters. A slightly fuzzy, black-and-white picture of a blonde with a smile too big for her face took up the bulk of the page; a local phone number and “$10,000 Reward!” filled the footer.

      It took me a breath and a blink to realize this wasn’t the same Missing poster I’d seen stapled to poles and stuck in store-front windows for the last few months. This was new—a different girl, a different amount, but the same story.

      Mona crossed her arms. “I taped it in the window.”

      “What are you thinking?” Ray wadded up the sign and tossed it in the trash on his way to the coffee maker. “We’re trying to convince retirees and families that Deadwood is a safe place to live. Pictures of missing girls don’t exactly encourage these suckers to cough up a down payment.”

      I dropped the receiver back in its cradle and scooped the wadded-up sign from Ray’s garbage. “When did this happen?” I asked, my chest tight; my blonde, nine-year-old daughter spurring my sudden dizzying spell of anxiety.

      “Vi, are you okay?” Mona asked through a tin can on the other end of a string—at least that’s what it sounded like as my vision tunneled. I felt a warm hand on my shoulder. “Honey, sit down.”

      I dropped into a chair that somehow ended up behind my knees. My hand trembled slightly as I held up the picture. “When?” 

      “Two days ago.”

      “What’s with her?” Ray said as he passed behind me. “It’s not her kid.”

      I took a deep breath, something I found myself doing often these days when Ray was within a five-mile radius. If there was an award for the World’s Biggest Horse’s Ass, Ray’s desk would be littered with grand-prize trophies.

      “You okay, Vi?” Mona asked, her hand squeezing.

      I nodded and flashed her a smile. It weighed heavy on my lips.

      Ray was right, it wasn’t my kid. It was, however, a second child gone missing. In a town as small as Deadwood, one girl was a worry. Two was an epidemic.

      “From here on out,” Ray’s chair griped with a squeal as he dropped into it, “only MLS listings go in our window.”

      I stuffed the Missing sign in my purse and tried to push my apprehension aside for now. I still had to sell a house.

      “The boss approved, so get over it,” Mona said.

      A blaze of curses fired from Ray’s mouth.

      Mona examined her manicured nails, her feathers apparently ruffle-free. She once informed me that after working with the blockhead for over a decade, she’d developed a callous exterior when it came to Ray’s bullshit. That didn’t stop her from dumping an extra helping of Benefiber in his daily glass of orange juice every now and then, as I’d witnessed several times.

      “I take it the Rupps weren’t interested, Sunshine.” Mona also liked to give Ray cute nicknames just to needle him.

      “You’re wrong. They’re going to sign an offer letter.”

      “What!” I was out of my seat and in his face before I realized it. “They were my clients.”

      Ray patted me on the head. The smell of his sweat under his plaster of Stetson cologne made my stomach churn. “You snooze, you lose, Blondie.”

      Ray used nicknames, too, his purpose a bit darker.

      “I wasn’t snoozing. I was facing off with a shotgun.”

      “So, Harvey was feeling feisty today? I warned you.”

      “You said to use honey instead of vinegar, not wear a Kevlar vest and carry a concealed weapon.”

      “Some customers are tougher than others. You’re going to have to buck up, little girl, if you want to make it in the realty business in this town.” His chair creaked again as he kicked back, his hand-tooled, Tony Lama boots acting as paperweights. “Leave Old Man Harvey to me.”

      “You stay away from Harvey. He’s my client.”

      “You got him to sign a contract?” Mona sounded surprised.

      I plucked the contract from my tote and held it up.

      Ray snorted. “There’s no signature on that, Sweetheart.”

      “There will be after tonight.”

      “What’s tonight?” Mona asked.

      My cheeks heated. I mumbled my answer as I stuffed the contract back into my tote.

      Mona leaned forward. “You’re doing what with Harvey?”

      “Going out to dinner.”

      Ray’s laughter rumbled throughout the room.

      “Oh, Vi. Do you think that’s a good idea?”

      I wasn’t used to seeing Mona frown. “It’s just dinner, that’s all. He’s a lonely guy.”

      “I’m a lonely guy, too, Blondie. Stop by my place after dinner and I’ll give you a lesson on finishing the deal. Wear something tight and low-cut.”

      I’d sooner drink Drano. “I’ll pass.”

      “Your loss.” Ray nodded at the calendar hanging on the wall. “With your time just about up, I guess I should call my nephew and tell him to have his interview suit dry-cleaned.”

      Ray had made it no secret that he’d been ticked Jane hired me back in May for the newly-created Associate position, instead of waiting another month for his nephew to finish realty school. As Deadwood’s reigning King of Schmooze, Ray wasn’t used to rejection, but no amount of dining—or whining—had convinced Jane to take on a fourth employee.

      I lifted my chin. “I’m not out of the game yet.” I had a Hail Mary play left in me still, I was sure of it.

      With his trademark smirk in place, Ray sat forward as if he had a secret to share. “Harvey isn’t going to sign any contract, Sweetheart. He’s just dangling a carrot, hoping to get some young tail. Did he tell you that he got kicked out of the Prairie Dog Palace Casino last week for wagging his Johnson at a busload of pretty old maids from Canada?”

      That wasn’t true—well, not exactly, according to Harvey. Besides, it didn’t matter if it was. I needed a sale, even if it cost me a little dignity and a lot of antacids.

      “Sunshine,” Mona said, “your asshole meter is red-lining.”

      Ray waved off Mona. “Face it, Blondie. You’re like Wild Bill and Potato Creek Johnny around these parts—history.”

      I picked up my stapler with every intention of imprinting ‘Swingline’ on Ray’s forehead via blunt force trauma. 

      The front door whisked open and a tall, sandy-haired Don Juan zeroed in on me with a white-toothed grin that saved me from a potential assault charge.

      “Hello, Miss Parker.”

      I lowered the stapler, a little starry-eyed by Don Juan’s dazzling features. “Have we met before?” I was sure I’d have remembered him.

      He held out a postcard I recognized by sight.

      A month ago, I’d had the harebrained idea of making up postcards using a family picture to help round up some business. The whole “look at me, I’m just a friendly mom who wants to help you sell your house and make all of your dreams come true” kind of card. It had drained my dwindling savings account of several hundred precious dollars.

      “Ah. You got my postcard. How can I help you?”
Please say you want to sell something.

      “I want to sell my house.”

I offered Don Juan the seat across from me and grabbed paper and pen. “Let’s start with your name.”

      “Wolfgang Hessler.”

      “Hessler? Spelled the same as the jewelry store in town?”

      “Exactly. That’s my store.”

      “Oh. That’s a nice store.” That was like saying the Hope diamond was a “pretty stone.”

      Hessler’s Jewelry Designs was one of the two primo jewelry stores on Main Street—heck, in western South Dakota. There were none of the usual Black Hills Gold grape-leaf pieces in his store window, only original designs that took my breath away. Not that I could afford even a single earring from his shop, let alone two. But I often drooled in his store’s window while scarfing down chocolate from the Candy Corral, located a few doors down.

      “You’re Wilma Hessler’s kid?” Ray rolled his chair over and joined the conversation in spite of my eat-shit-and-die glare.

      “Wilma was my mother, yes.” Wolfgang’s articulate use of the English language seemed out of place.

      “I thought you moved to San Francisco.” Ray knew everything about everyone in town. That’s probably what had made him the top salesman every month for the past five years, and possibly the only reason that Jane put up with his chauvinistic ass.

      “I did.”

      “Are you going to sell the jewelry store, too?” Ray asked. If I’d had a Kleenex, I’d have given it to Ray to wipe the drool from his chin.

      “No. My mother would roll over in her grave if I did that. It’s been in the family for generations.” His cobalt eyes locked onto mine. “I’m just here to sell my mother’s house.”

      If I smiled any wider, my forehead would cave in. Here it was, finally! My big, gorgeous fish.

      “What’s the address?” I tried to keep the giggles of glee out of my voice.

      “55 Van Buren Street.”

      That was near the old Adams’ house-slash-museum in the historic presidential neighborhood, just a short hop from downtown Deadwood. I glanced at Ray and could have danced the Charleston at the sight of his clenched teeth.

      “When would be a good time for me to come over and take a look around the place?” I was available now, yesterday, and the day before.

      “Are you free right now?”

      The phone on my desk rang, interrupting my shout of
I looked at the number of who was calling and recognized it. “I’ll let that go to voicemail.”

      Wolfgang smiled. I smiled back. Hell, the whole world was smiling at that moment. We should have all joined hands.

      “Let me just check my calendar to make sure I don’t have any other appointments this afternoon.”

      A muffled guffaw came from Ray’s direction. Mona cleared her throat.

      The phone stopped mid-ring as I dug through my tote for my daytimer.

      “Here we are.” I flipped open to July, happy I’d taken the time yesterday in between twiddling my fingers and twirling my hair to add a few fake appointments to my book just to cheer myself up.

      Mona’s phone started ringing. She picked it up on the second ring.

      I ran my finger down the page. “I’m taking a client to dinner this evening but other than that, my schedule is open.”

      Wolfgang stood. “Perfect. You can follow me.”

      “Excuse me, Vi?”

      I looked at Mona.

      “I have a call for you.” She mouthed my son’s name.

Damn it, Layne!
“Can you take a message for me?”

      “Ummm, he sounds like this is kind of important.”

If this was about those stupid worms
... I turned to Wolfgang. “Could you hold on for just a second, please?”

      He nodded.

      I walked to Mona’s desk and took the receiver from her. “I’m a little busy. Can I call you back in a bit?”

      “No!” Layne yelled. I’m pretty sure they heard him over in Montana. “You have to come home right now! It’s an emergency!”

      “Layne, calm down.”

      “Now, Mom! Hurry!”

      “Where is—” The line clicked, and then silence.

      My heart thudded hard against my ribs.

      “What’s wrong, Vi? Is he okay?”

      “I don’t know.” Layne had a history of crying wolf. His so-called emergencies often turned out to be minor predicaments fixed by applying or removing super glue. But if I didn’t go and something really was wrong, well, that was the Catch-22, wasn’t it? “I need to go home.” Then I remembered my big fish. “Uhh, Mr. Hessler—”

      “You want to reschedule?”

      “I’m so sorry.”

      “Don’t worry about it.” He reached in his back pocket.

BOOK: Nearly Departed in Deadwood
12.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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