Nearly Departed in Deadwood (4 page)

BOOK: Nearly Departed in Deadwood
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      I slumped into my chair and covered my eyes. “Can you believe her?”

      “Well,” Mona’s attempt to hold in her laughter made her voice vibrate. “Addy’s heart is in the right place.”

      “There were ten messages on the answering machine last night when we returned from dinner. After the first one, I had to shoo the kids upstairs. Nothing but a bunch of perverts detailing the ‘loving’ they planned to give me. One spent thirty seconds alone on the topic of spanking.”

      “Give it a week and things will quiet down, especially when you don’t return their calls.”

      “At least Addy didn’t include our address.”

      Unease over the missing girls had made my hands clammy through much of the evening and into the wee hours of the night. By morning, I’d made the decision to educate myself on the two girls, to prove that Addy’s commonalities were few.

      Nails clacking again, Mona yawned. “Hey, how did dinner go? Did Harvey sign?”

      “Dinner, right.” My heartburn bubbled at the memory. “Let’s see, for the appetizer, Addy dissected her Cornish game hen on the linen napkin.”

      Silence again issued from Mona’s keyboard.

      “For the main course, Layne took one bite of his elk burger and spit it back on his plate, declaring to all of Deadwood that it tasted like poop.”

      Mona’s grin was wide. “I’ve never been a big fan of elk.”

      “And as a grand finale, Harvey leaned over to pinch the waitress’s butt while she was lighting my Cherries Jubilee and his beard caught on fire.”

      “Is he okay?”

      “Just a little singed. You know, that’s the first time I’ve been kicked out of a restaurant.”

      “Well, at least you have a signed contract now.”

      “No, I don’t.”

      Mona peeked at me over her glasses as her fingers returned to work. “Why not?”

      “Harvey said he wanted to read it at home where he could let it all sink in.”

      “So now what?”

      “I wait until tonight.”

      Her pearl-drop earrings jiggled as she shook her head. “Don’t tell me.”

      “Dinner is on him this time.”

      “He’s really milking you on this. Want me to watch the kids?”

      “Nope. They’re invited, too. We’re picnicking at the Dinosaur Park down in Rapid.”

      My phone rang. A number with a 415 area code greeted me instead of South Dakota’s usual 605. Who was calling me from out of state? I picked up the receiver. “Calamity Jane Realty, Violet Parker speaking.”

      “Hello, Miss Parker. How are you this sunny morning?” Wolfgang Hessler’s whiskey-smooth voice brought a smile to my face. He must have been calling from his cell phone.

      “I’m wonderful,” I bluffed, “and you, Mr. Hessler?”

      “Ah, you know my voice. I like that in a relationship—business or personal.”

     
Personal?
Dear God, please tell me he didn’t get Sunday’s paper.

      “Are you still interested in showing me your mother’s house today?” While the guy’s handsome face could make a girl want to put on a little black dress and a coat of red lipstick, I had a one-track mind these days.

      “Will you be able to meet me at the house around noon?”

      “Of course.”

      “Splendid. Do you like shrimp?”

      Only when it was battered, deep fried, and tasted like chicken, but for a signed contract, I’d eat a fermented egg. Or an elk burger. “Sure, why?”

      “Bring your appetite. I’ll see you soon, Miss Parker.”

      He said my name like I was one of those James Bond babes. I hung up and looked at Mona. “Cross your fingers. I have a lunch date with a jeweler.”

      “You’re getting popular,” Mona said right as Jane was stepping out of her office.

      “Violet’s getting popular?” Jane headed for the coffee maker. The fruity floral and vanilla scent of her favorite perfume floated across my radar. “Does that mean you have good news for me?”

      Mona and I exchanged winces.

      “Not officially,” I said, unwilling to admit defeat to the woman who would be signing my commission checks someday.

      Jane turned, coffee in hand, and smiled at me. Since the first time I’d met her, her resemblance to the mom on the Partridge Family made me feel like chestnuts were roasting on an open fire.

      “Violet, did you see the note on today’s To-Do list?” She pointed a manicured pink fingernail at the white board next to the coffee maker.

      The picture of professionalism from the tips of her frosted dark blonde hair to the toes of her Manolo shoes, Jane loved lists, whether they were full of to-dos, goals, or pros and cons.

      “No, sorry.” I’d been a little too distracted by my daughter’s latest plan on how to find me a man.

      I walked over to the board and grabbed the yellow Post-It next to my name.
Call DR Nyce: 605-555-1971

      “Do either of you know this Doctor Nyce guy?” I asked Mona and Jane.

      They shook their heads in tandem.

      “Did he say he wanted to buy or sell a house?”
Or buff my Bronco?
Had he read Addy’s ad and tracked me down?

      “No, just that he wanted you to call him back,” Jane said.

      “I bet he got your postcard.” Mona winked at me. “That was a great marketing idea, don’t you think so, Jane?”

      Jane grinned. “Mona, you couldn’t be more obvious if you were wearing a blinking neon sign. Violet, please tell me you have at least one signed contract in the works.”

      “I do. Two of them.” Lying was bad, I reminded myself. I held up the Post-It. “Maybe even a third.”

      “Good. It will make today’s lunch more tolerable.”

      “What’s going on at lunch?” I asked, sweat forming in all of my usual nervous spots.

      “Ray insisted on taking me out.”

      Mona closed her laptop with a click. “He’s not still trying to get you into bed, is he?”

      Jane was in the midst of wrapping up her third nasty divorce. Being the vulture that he was, Ray kept circling, waiting for her to stumble and fall into his arms.

      Jane’s laugh seemed hollow. “No. He wants to introduce me to his nephew.” She perked up at the sound of her phone ringing. “Oh, that’s my lawyer.”

      I watched her stride back into her office, my lungs in lockdown as panic ran amok. Ray’s plan to replace me with his nephew was no longer just a mouthful of hot air.

      “Vi, honey,” Mona’s voice sounded like she was talking to me through a double-paned window. “You’re turning blue.”

      I gulped. “I’m so screwed.”

      “Not necessarily. It’s just lunch.”

      I stared at the phone number on the Post-It. This Doctor Nyce better not be another freak interested in “twiddling with my radio dials.” I picked up the receiver and punched in the numbers, counting the rings. After the sixth, I hung up.

      Pushing to my feet, I grabbed my purse. “I’m going to head out a little early and take some pictures of area houses I can use for price comparisons.”

      “That’s my girl.”

      “If this Doctor Nyce calls back, will you give him my cell number?”

      “Sure thing.”

      “Thanks.” I took a deep breath and smiled at Mona. “I’ll be back after lunch. If Ray’s here, I’m going to stuff my signed contract down his goddamned throat.”

 
       

     
Chapter Four

      I gaped at the Hessler house.

      Like many of the other houses in the historic Presidential neighborhood in Deadwood, the place was a nineteenth-century Victorian with a multi-gabled roof and two-plus stories. However, unlike the surrounding houses, it suffered from loneliness—evident by the peeling paint, missing roof shingles, and rusting front gate. It was going to take some serious nursing to remove the Norman Bates curb appeal.

      My right eye began to twitch.

      The front gate’s hinges screamed at me as I opened it. Scraggly patches of shin-high grass drooped over the walkway, snagging at my nylons. The paint-starved floor boards groaned underfoot when I climbed the steps onto the veranda-style porch.

      No doorbell to be found, I pulled open the wooden, gingerbread-style screen door and yelped when the whole thing broke off its rusty hinges. If I were a believer in omens, this one would be up there with croaking crows and howling hounds. Now all I needed was a black cat.

      I laid the screen against the wall, wiped my hands on my soft suede skirt, and knocked on the front door.

      Thunder boomed, low and distant. I peeked around the porch’s roof. Cumulus clouds billowed in the western sky. The hills were thirsty, but in a land littered with dry tinder, lightning kindled nightmares.

      Footfalls thumped toward me from inside the house. I turned to the door as it swung wide.

      “Miss Parker, welcome to my humble abode.” Wolfgang’s smile could have charmed the stockings off a preacher’s wife. Lucky for me, my pantyhose were control-top.

      I tried to crack a grin in return, but my cheeks would have none of it. Denial was a defense mechanism on which I couldn’t waste time. I had to accept fact—there was no way in hell I could flip this house in three weeks. “Hi,” I said around the sob swelling in my throat.

      “Are you okay?” Wolfgang asked.

      His question snapped me out of my poor-me party. The last thing I needed was to bawl all over a potential client.

      “Yes, but I broke your screen door.”

      He shrugged off my admission. “I’m just glad the whole house hasn’t fallen down yet.”

      Oddly enough, his words weren’t exactly the wind beneath my wings—more like a baseball bat to my knees.

      He stepped back so I could slip by him. Which I did, in spite of an urge to run back to my Bronco, race to the Candy Corral, and bury my head in a vat of dark chocolate.

      Musty with stale varnish and dust bunnies, the vestibule’s warmth made it hard to breathe. Or maybe it was just grim reality tightening its choke hold, I couldn’t be sure.

      Wolfgang closed the door behind me, throwing us into shadow. “Let’s start with lunch. Then I’ll drag you through the rest of the house.”

      I’d be kicking and screaming the whole way if the inside was as bad as the outside.

      He slid open a set of rolling doors to my left, and shafts of light beckoned. I followed after him, my heels echoing on the mosaic tiles.

      We crossed a formal sitting room with a hardwood floor. Sheets covered everything, filling the room with ghosts of all shapes and sizes. The walls might have been green or tan—the drawn blinds made it tough to tell. A rolled-up rug lay along one wall, in front of a boarded-up fireplace. The hippo sitting on my chest shifted at the sight of an ornate marble mantel.

      Through another set of rolling doors was a dining room, the table and chairs also under wraps. A chandelier trimmed with spider webs hung cockeyed. To my right, a narrow door blended in with the wainscoting. The air smelled fresher in here. The light was brighter, too, thanks to a pair of French doors to my left. The end of the tunnel drew near.

      “Here we are.” Wolfgang opened the French doors.

      I stepped into a screened-in breakfast nook. Shafts of sunlight splayed across the floral-covered bench seat lining the southern wall. A small round table held a bowl overflowing with salad, shrimp, orange slices, and croûtons. Lemon wedges filled a saucer next to it, and two empty salad plates accompanied by silverware sat across from each other.

      “Make yourself comfortable.” Wolfgang pulled out a white wicker chair for me. “I’ll be right back with something to drink.” He disappeared through the French doors and I heard the creak of another door opening.

      I dropped my purse on the bench seat, then grimaced at the dust that poofed up. The chair looked rickety, but was sturdy as I lowered into it.

      Outside the screened windows, a battered cedar fence imprisoned the backyard. Waves of dry grass bristled in the slight breeze. A gnarled oak filled the southeastern corner, the remains of a swing dangling from one of its limbs. The rusty skeleton of a trellis leaned at a 45-degree angle over a stone bench. Next to the detached garage, a blood-red water pump and handle protruded up through the weeds.

      Sighing, I shoved a loose curl behind my ear. It was a regular Eden back there, the broken concrete birdbath a fitting centerpiece.

      The ceiling creaked overhead, as if someone was walking around upstairs. I looked up, expecting paint chips to sprinkle onto my face, happy to be disappointed for once.

      “Choose your poison.” Wolfgang’s voice tore through me with a jolt. My chair grunted from my sudden shift. How had he gotten back downstairs so lickety-split?

      “Lemonade or beer?” He held a glass and a bottle out toward me.

      “Beer, please.” Lemonade wasn’t going to cut it today.

      He placed a sweaty bottle of Black Hills Nugget in front of me. After dishing up some salad for both of us, he joined me at the table. “Well, what do you think?”

      “Ummm, it’s ...” I tried to choose my adjectives carefully.

      “A mess?” His grin reached the corners of his eyes. “A rattrap? A sty?”

      “Yes, but I mean that in a good way.”

      He laughed, the tone warm, friendly. My shoulders sagged in relief, and I suddenly realized how hungry I was. I dug into my salad in spite of the shrimp and practically purred over the tangy vinaigrette dressing.

      Small talk about Deadwood filled the time as forks flew and croûtons crunched. I swallowed the last of my beer, ready to press on and see what other surprises the house held.

      The kitchen revealed two secrets upon entry. The first, the delicious lunch had been take-out. The second, Wolfgang’s mother had loved clowns. From the clown-popping-out-of-a-barrel cookie jar to the clowns-pouring-out-of-cars wallpaper, the room crawled with painted faces with cavernous, sinister smiles. Had I walked into the room on a stormy night with a lit candle in hand, I would have peed my pants.

BOOK: Nearly Departed in Deadwood
4.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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