Nearly Departed in Deadwood (7 page)

BOOK: Nearly Departed in Deadwood
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      I massaged the back of my neck where tension lingered, tightening. “Kelly told Addy that she and her friend, Emma, had been out riding bikes when the girl disappeared. They’d stopped at the Piggly Wiggly for milk and baby food for Kelly’s little brother. Emma stayed outside to watch the bikes. When Kelly came out of the store, the bikes were still there, but her friend was gone. That was the last time anyone saw Emma.”

      Natalie shuddered visibly. “Jesus, that’s creepy.”

      “Makes me not want to allow the kids to ride their bikes around town anymore.”

      “Understandable, but they’d be miserable stuck at home.”

      She was right. As much as I wanted to lock my twins in the house and not let them answer the door, I had to show some trust in their judgment when it came to strangers.

      “Kelly said Addy reminds her of the missing girl. Do you think Kelly’s parents took her to a counselor after the whole thing happened?”

      “Who knows? Kelly’s dad works for the county on the road crew. He’s not the most sensitive guy. His brains got rattled a few too many times back on the football field.”

      “After what Addy told me last night, I wanted to nix any future friendship with Kelly, but I can’t do that. Addy will just say I’m out to ruin her life—again.”

      “Maybe Kelly just likes to talk about this,” Natalie said. “You know, an attention-getter now that she has a baby brother.”

      “She didn’t come across as needy, more melancholy.” The little waif seemed to have a black cloud behind her eyes the whole time she and Addy had clambered around the huge dinosaurs. “I sure hope Addy has the sense to back away if Kelly gets weird.”

      Natalie patted my hand. “You never had that sense when it came to me.”

      “Yeah, but you started out weird.”

      A shadow blocked the glare glinting off the SUV. I peeked over Natalie’s shoulder.

      Doc Nyce beckoned me through the plate-glass window.

      The sight of his ruffled black hair and long legs made me do a double-take.

      I made eye contact.

      He pointed at his watch, then held up his index finger.

      I gave him a thumbs-up.

      Doc’s gaze dropped to Natalie, and I realized she had turned and was waving at him. He gave her a nod, then me, before exiting stage left.

      Natalie whirled back to me. “Who was

      “Doc Nyce.”

      “He’s gorgeous. Is he an OB-GYN?”

      I wrinkled my nose. “You’re positively ill, Nat.”

      “You’re right, I should see a doctor. Do you think Doc Nyce is available?”

      “He’s not a doctor.”

      Obviously ignoring me, she glanced back at the window. “How do you know him?”

      “He’s my client. We’re going house-hunting this afternoon.”

      “Lucky you! So Doc’s sticking around town, then?”

      I could see where this was leading. “You’re on sabbatical, remember?”

      “Damn it. That’s right.” Natalie stood. “What time am I picking you up later?”

      “Five-thirty. The kids are coming, too.” I had no choice. Babysitters didn’t exactly grow on pine trees.

      “Okay.” Natalie backed toward the door, her dimples showing. “Give Doc Nyce a ‘Welcome’ kiss for me.”

      “Not on your life.” Although my mind veered to Doc’s mouth, pondering. What would it be like to grab him by the ears and taste-test?

      I shook the thought from my head. I had a handful of principles, and one in particular had something to do with not mixing work with play. Besides, his actions yesterday were just not normal, no matter how I tried to spin it. 

      With a wave, Natalie stepped out into the sunshine, leaving me alone with a ticking clock.


      * * *


      A minute before my appointment with Doc, I stuffed the listings I'd printed into my tote and headed for the front door. My cell phone trilled as I stepped out into the afternoon heat.

      Aunt Zoe's phone number showed on my screen. "Hello?"

      "Mom," Layne sounded winded. "Will you pick up some ammonia on your way home tonight?"

      I stopped just short of Doc’s door. "What do you need ammonia for?"

      "For boiling the skull, of course." He said it as if we boiled skulls for supper every night. “Do we have any peroxide?”

      I covered my eyes with my free hand. “You’re going to cook the skull in ammonia and peroxide? I don’t think that’s safe, Layne.”

      “No, Mother.” His tone held a nonverbal “duh.” “The peroxide is for bleaching.”

      Something meowed in the background. Aunt Zoe didn't own a cat. "Was that a cat, Layne?"

      "Gotta go, Mom. Don't forget the ammonia."

      I swore under my breath as I snapped my phone shut. I sure hoped Aunt Zoe had fire insurance.

      Shaking off Layne’s phone call, I pushed open the door to Doc's office and noticed he had company.

      A shirtless man with curly gray hair smiled at me from his perch on the edge of Doc's desk. Behind him, Doc peered at his bare back with a magnifying glass.

      “Sorry.” My cheeks lightly toasted, I turned my back, pretended to stare out the window, and tried to find something to do with my hands. It’s not like I hadn’t seen a bare-chested man before. Hell, I ogled the tanned torsos of road construction crews along with every other sex-starved female south of the Arctic Circle. I just hadn’t expected to come across so much exposed flesh and chest hair in Doc’s office at one o’clock on a Wednesday. 

      "I'm pretty sure it's just a mole," Doc’s baritone voice sounded extra loud in my fidgety brain.

      “Thanks, Doc.”

      I heard a pair of boots hit the wood floor. I turned my head just a bit and peeked at the two men.

      The older guy slid his plaid shirt back on and picked up a book from the chair opposite Doc’s desk. “I’ll see you next week.”

      I tried to read the name of the book as he nodded at me on his way out the door, but his hand covered the title.

      As soon as the door closed behind Doc’s visitor, I whirled around. “I thought you weren’t a doctor.”

      “I’m not. He was confused.”

      So was I. “But he’s coming back next week?”

      “He needs my help.” Doc grabbed some keys from his top drawer. “Ready to go?”

      I nodded, but didn’t budge when he held open the door for me. “Who are you really, Mr. Nyce?”

      “I’m just a man trying to buy a house, Ms. Parker.”

      I may not have dated since acid-wash jeans were in style, but I knew a brushoff when I heard one. With a mental sigh, I crossed the threshold. “I’ll drive.”

      Two hours and two houses later, we bounced along a steep hillside street in Deadwood’s northern Forest Hill neighborhood. My knuckles were white as I clenched the steering wheel, but not due to the steep dropoff on my left.

      There was definitely something odd about Doc. Something that made my sweat cold in spite of the hot gusts swirling through the gulch this afternoon. I’d been analyzing it since we toured the first house and I’d caught him sniffing in an upstairs closet. Not sniffing coke or Elmer’s glue, just sniffing.

      I’d kept my mouth shut. After all, I had been standing alone in an empty house with a man whose forearms alone looked muscled enough to snap my neck like it was dried spaghetti.

      He sniffed every room, every corner, every nook and cranny, everywhere. He was like some human version of a bloodhound. I’d half-expected him to turn around and sniff me at some point.

      After inhaling his way through the house, he’d declared that he would pass on the place. When I pressed, he shrugged and just said, “Too big.”

      A thorough sniffing of the second house inspired a “too small” from him.

      Now, as I parked the Bronco in front of the last house I’d opted to show him today, I could tell by the vertical wrinkles lining his forehead that he was already thinking up another enlightening two-word reason why he didn’t like this home.

      “How old is this one?” he asked while tailing me up the sidewalk to the front door.

      I checked the listing paperwork. “Early 1900s.” I punched in the code to unlock the lockbox and pulled out the key, expecting him to tell me to forget it, but he didn’t. I held the door for him to enter.

      “You first,” he said and waited for me to lead.

      This was the third time he’d insisted I enter a house before him. I couldn’t figure out if he was being a gentleman or if this was another of his strange tics.

      I stepped inside a well-lit foyer, lined with hardwood flooring. Stained-glass windows in the interior walls shed pink and blue-tinged light into a wide hall from rooms to the left and right. Arched thresholds to adjoining rooms added to the open feel, and a staircase anchored the opposite end.

      I beat him to the first sniff. Pine-sol and Lemon Pledge filled the air.

      Doc inhaled and grunted.

      I couldn’t tell if it was a good grunt or bad grunt, being that I was rusty on my Caveman vernacular.

      He tapped one of the stained-glass windows. “I like this.”

      I coughed in surprise.

      We sniffed our way through a carpeted living room with sage-colored walls to the kitchen. Stainless steel appliances, glass-paned cabinets, and can lighting gave a modern but cozy feel to the room. Whoever had had this place before put some money into it.

      While the dining room was small, French doors leading to a well-manicured backyard encased by a split-rail fence gave a false impression of more space.

      The downstairs bathroom had a polished granite sink top, a black toilet, a heated stone floor, and a mosaic of the sun tiled into the shower wall.

      I paused at the base of the stairs. “You want to continue?”

      “Sure.” He smiled for the first time since we’d left his office. The transformation made me do a double-take.

      There were three rooms upstairs—an office, a small bathroom with a shower instead of a tub, and a master bedroom. I stood inside the doorway of the latter, waiting for Doc to finish his inhalation of the bathroom.

      I heard him come up behind me. “This is just perfect, don’t you think?” I asked. A coined phrase I learned in a one-day seminar about using positive voice inflections to acquire a sale.

      In actuality, the house was an ideal bachelor pad. Doc could even set up a computer at home and skip the three-mile commute to the office if he wanted.

      “The toilet has a new shut-off valve,” he said.

      To which I couldn’t think of a single response, so I just nodded.

      He sniffed. “Do you smell that?”

      I smelled something flowery, probably carpet freshener—a nice touch by the real estate agent. I’d have to remember that. “Smells like gardenias.”

      Doc gasped, coughed, and then wheezed.

      I turned toward him. His face had a pale, blanched tone that made his dark brown eyes seem larger. “Are you okay?”

      He leaned over, nearly retching now, his neck tendons showing.

      I grabbed his shoulder, not sure if I should smack him on the back or poke a hole in his windpipe with a pen. “What is it? Are you allergic to gardenias?”

      His whole body began to shudder. He broke free of my grasp and raced out of the room. I heard him clomp down the stairs, then the front door banged shut. Through the window, I watched him lean against my Bronco and wipe at his mouth.

What the fuck?

      It took a couple of minutes for my adrenaline to stop shooting through my limbs with fire-hose intensity. I swabbed the sweat from my forehead and headed downstairs, locking up behind me.

      I climbed into my Bronco and started the engine, waiting for the air conditioning to kick in before looking at Doc. His skin had returned to its normal olive color, his eyes no longer watering, his breathing quiet and rhythmic.

      “I take it you’re going to pass on that one, too?”

      “I think I want to come back again.”

      My mouth fell open. I couldn’t help it. “You do?”

      “Another day, though.”

      My mouth still gaped. “What happened up there?”

      “I don’t like gardenias.”

      “You need to seek medical help for that.”

      “We should probably call it a day.”

      A flesh-and-blood buyer or not, I was tempted to call it a life and say our “goodbyes” right then, but I really wanted to keep my job.

      The short trip back to the office was broken only by the whir from the vents.

      “Could you drop me off at my car, please?” he asked.

      The sooner I could put some space between us, the better. “Where are you parked?”

      “Behind the building.” He cleared his throat. “Are you available tomorrow afternoon?”

      No! “Sure. One o’clock?”

      “I have an appointment then. How about two?”

      Appointment with whom? I wanted to ask what exactly he did besides inspect moles and read books on Wild Bill, but since he’d brushed me off earlier, I decided to save it for another time. “I’ll find a few more houses to show you.”

      “Maybe something a little older,” he suggested.

If that’s what he wanted, Deadwood was perfect for him. It didn’t get its ghost-town label for nothing.

      I bounced through a set of potholes into the parking lot behind Calamity Jane Realty.

      “Right there,” he said, pointing out his car.

      I stomped on the brakes. My tires screeched in protest. Doc braced himself on the dashboard.

      “You’re kidding me.” My teeth ground as I stared at his late ‘60s black Camaro with rally stripes. “That’s

      “Yeah.” He raised his brows. “Not a Camaro fan, huh?”

      Not for the one that parks in my spot.

      First the box of books, then the whole gardenia incident, now the car. As much as I wanted to play praying mantis and bite Doc’s head off in one swift chomp, I squeezed my lips together. I needed him. “Do you always park there?”

BOOK: Nearly Departed in Deadwood
7.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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