The Beauty at the End of the Block, A Brew Parkers Mystery

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Chapter 3

The June meeting was at Gretchen's and the topic was suggestions for summer reading. We were to bring a book to exchange. (Holly made the suggestion to Gretchen at baseball practice.)That was fun! Sahara said she did not have one to recommend. She brought European fashion magazines instead. The actual books exchanged included romance, non-fiction, a cook book and some newer fiction. Holly wanted to bring one of mine and tell the group about my work. She is a great fan! I told her no. . What will the kids say to my boys? I don't want to upset them.

“Let me host the next one.” Sahara insisted at the end of the meeting. “I would love to have you all over. Some of you have enjoyed the house already” She avoided looking at Holly and I. We knew from the general conversation that the other Brew Parkers had been invited over for visits with the exception, again, of Holly and I.

“Sure.” We all agreed.

“Super. I will text you the topic later.” Sahara stood, passed out her air kisses and left.

Walking home from the meeting, I saw I was not the only one up and out. Jerry Forton's garage door was open and the lights were on. Jerry and John had formed a nice friendship over the past months.

I came home to everyone still awake. School was over for the summer break and they guys were up playing their latest video game.

“ No! No! Left flank ! Left Flank!” John yelled. He the captain on this mission. “And we are all eliminated! OK. Pause. Get a drink or snack.” The J.J. And Michael paused and gave me hugs and kisses. They were nibbling on the fruit tray I had set out. John walked over and gave me kiss. “Was this party any better?”

“Sahara and Margret spent 45 minutes talking about the clothes in the magazine Sahara brought. I interrupted and swung the conversation back to the books. Holly brought a book ad I wanted to hear about it. With the end of school and the wrapping up her latest paper, we have not talked much this week.”

“Did you get to mention the obnoxious music?” John handed his controller to J.J.

“ I did. Sahara brushed it off with 'If it's too loud your too old' and laughed.” I walk over and let Charger out. “ Holly said it would be nice if she turned down the volume out of consideration of the families with babies and smaller children who still take naps. Sahara responded with 'Oh, they'll just have to get over it. Wait until the fire pit and the reflecting pool are finished. Things will really get loud!' ” I laughed. “Such a considerate neighbor.” For the past month, our end of the block has been flooded in pop music from mid-afternoon until 1 in the morning. If you sleep with your windows open, you are out of luck.

“She thinks people who do not enjoy the top 20 crap she listens to too old.” John laughed. “Even Roger gets annoyed with the music and he's, what, 19 or 20.”

“Around there. Sahara should not talk about age. She is not as young as she acts. There are a lot of deep lines and wrinkles underneath the thick trendy makeup.” After staring at her so long at each meeting , you notice these things.

Two days later, we received the text. The July theme is “The History of Swimsuits”. She listed several books as ideas for research. Also, we should wear our favorite bathing suits. “Isn’t that fun?” She concluded her text.

“Really! Swimsuits! Is she for real?” I squawked in Holly’s butter-cream colored kitchen. Our boys and husbands were playing video games at my house. Charger and I escaped to Holly’s house for a little quiet. Princess and Charger were asleep behind us in a large section of sun warmed tile. Holly and I were nibbling on cucumbers and green peppers with Holly's spicy hummus. “Why not something patriotic? The Bill of Rights is always a good choice. We could discuss the 2nd amendment.”

“It is summer time and swimsuits are summery. It will mean shopping and Sahara knows all about shopping. I saw her walking to her car and asked her if she was enjoying Garden View. Sahara was frustrated with the Garden View Mall because of the lack of lip color selections”. Holly shook her head. “They are defiantly not from around here.’ Holly smiled. “I wonder if they are from make believe land. I really don't think they are from Boston. Neither has an accent and when I asked her if her favorite baseball team was doing well, she said she didn't follow sports. Kyle bragged to Jeff that he had season tickets” Holly stated. “Something is just not right about those two. Dave said Kyle will not tell anyone what he does for a living. He will vaguely talk about sales but never sales of what. Sahara talks about being a designer but never about projects she is working on. Jordan asked her about her work at the last meeting. She skirted the question. If you ask Margret about her latest product for sale, she will talk for an hour.”

I stood on our back patio one early Saturday morning. The morning breeze was out of the south. “Wow. What stinks?” I said to Charger ,who running around the fenced in back yard checking for chipmunks.

John came out with the coffees. “Good morn... Yuck! What's that!”

“Smells like rancid water. Oh!The Greentree’s reflecting pool, I think. Wow, that is bad. I did not know they had it in yet. The covenant police will be on their doorstep by Monday if that smell keeps up.” I took a deep drink of life giving coffee.

John shook his head and took sip. “No. This kind of smell comes from water sitting longer that a week or two. This is something else.”

“See! I told you it would still stink! Get rid of it today.” A shrill shout startled us. Our quiet morning gone. We could not see through Peggy and Bill Lyon’s shrubs but we know it was from the Greentree yard. It was Sahara. I had never heard her raise her voice.

“Babe. I’ll totally get to it but…you know I’ll need more green stuff to take care of it. Babe, I am totally out.” That must be Kyle. I had not heard him speak much. He mostly responded in grunts This response sounded like a bad 90's movie

“I just gave you money yesterday! What did you do with it!” Sahara yelled at Kyle.

“Well, you know. I need things.’ Kyle has switched to whining. Very unmanly.

“There is nothing in this dirty puddle of a town to buy. It's just like back home. It is not like it was before. Stop spending!” If Sahara was trying to lower her voice, she was failing. “They said we spent too much last month. They want us to cut back.”

“No way!” Kyle's turn to shout. “You tell them we need money. If they can't give it to us, someone else can.”

Sahara shouted. “Get that pretend pool thing cleaned up!” Sahara hissed and slammed a door.

John and I raised our eyes brows at each other.

Monday afternoon, Holly and I sat on the deck in my backyard watching the boys have a water balloon fight. I told her about the over heard conversation.

“Maybe it's the old treadmill pool.” Holly said and ate a strawberry.

“The what?” John and I knew the rules in Brew Park stated in ground pools with fences only.

“That pool was grandfathered in, kind of. The people who built the house wanted an in ground pool but could not afford to build the house and the pool at the same time. They could afford to put a treadmill type of pool in the first year. The following year they would put in the in a full in ground pool and tear out the other. They built the deck and to hide the unauthorized pool” Holly took a sip of homemade ice tea. Her information had come from the best source we had, Margret. She knew everyone and everything in our town.

“I lived two houses down from all that and never knew.” I shrugged and tossed a stray unbroken water balloon to Michael, and pointed to his big brother. He ran off, instructions understood.

“Yup” She swatted at a fly off of her navy knee length shorts. “Will and Sherry worked so much they never really mingled with us. Not even the Exclusives” That was our name for the high school like click in Brew Park. Imagine all the catty back stabbing drama from high school and add a more alcohol. Sound like fun, right? Holly and I were not part of it.

“Will was transferred as the house was finished. I don’t know if the pool ever had water in it. Oh, wait!” Holly raised he eye brows. “A pool van was here along with all of the other vans. That was back in the beginning of April. So, Kyle and Sahara filled it. He is such an dolt I bet he never thought to clean it. Yuck!”

“Mr. and Mrs. Hollywood filled it? Why?”I remembered Margret saying Sahara enjoyed the time at her country club pool. Margret said all of the pool boys fought over who got to wait on them.

“Maybe they thought it was a hot tub.” Holly smiled. That is one of the many reasons why Holly and I were best friends. I love her sense of humor.

“I wonder who they are “getting “ their money from?” I tapped my head.

It was the day before the July meeting before I knew it. I was taking a walk with Michael and saw Sahara in her front yard. She was directing two tired l landscapers.

“Not there. There!Do you know what they cost!” Sahara turned and saw me. “Oh. Hi, there.” She never addressed me by name. “It really is hard work designing a floral scape. Most people don’t realize it. I do, as a designer.” She fluffed her black hair and brushed invisible dirt off of her latest orange and purple ensemble. The breeze picked up and the smell from the pool smacked us as we stood there. Sahara wrinkled her nose making her perfectly powdered face wrinkle deeply. She could not not address the stench. “Oh. Ha. Yeah. Kyle is getting that fixed but the people can’t make it here until the fifth. I don’t think we can sit outside for the party like I planned. Bummer, right? But, we’ll all look cute in out swimsuits.”

“Sure.” What else could say?

The night of the Brew Parkers meeting arrived. Holly and I chose turn of the century bathing suits. They cover the entire body like pajamas and were not form fitting. When we showed up with the bathing bonnets and stockings, Jordan and Whitney loved them. The other girls wore tasteful one pieces with cover ups or sarong wraps. Margret and Sahara had obviously talked and wore matching red, blue and gold bikinis with coordinating head pieces. They accessorized with a gauzy gold star patterned sarong wrap with gold sequence edging and matching four inch gold sequence heels.

“Do we look like life size dolls or what!” Margret squealed at us. (Oh, dear!)

The food was a summer/ patriotic combination. Holly brought buffalo chicken wing dip with blue corn tortillas( our favorite). I brought a red, white and blue fruit salad. The other girls brought ice cream sandwich pie (low-fat almond milk), salsa and chips, and broccoli salad. Not very inventive for summer. Sahara had it catered!(“I only use professionals, like myself.”) The catered selection looked so perfect looking you would think it was plastic. Several people took photos with Sahara posing with the display. It did look like a magazine spread. The taste? Like plastic. Maybe plastic is a little harsh. How about no salt saltines with plain no flavored gelatin. Yes. That bad. The girls all took a pieces of each gorgeous treat, took a bite and never went back. But everyone was in bathing suites so no one really wanted eat. Food bloated stomachs were not attractive in bathing suits. While we held our food and stood around, Holly and I took in our surroundings.

The house, like the food and our hostess, was picture perfect. Sahara and Kyle's house was ultra European modern – black, white chrome and glass. The only color was the stained glass window that made up the rear wall of the main room. Multicolored and two stories high, it made bazaar 80s style geometric patterns float over the room. Spot lights, maybe meant for the pool that never was, were pointed at the window. Summer evening light and harsh artificial light poured in. Floor to ceiling chrome colored sheers framed the massive window. To my eye, the home did not look lived in, only staged. When we went to each other homes for these parties, we got to see a little more of our neighbors. Nothing nosy or secretive, just subtle notes of the family and the love in each home. Family portraits, trinkets, poorly sculpted school projects and embarrassing vacation photos. Sahara and Kyle’s house was department store generic. No personal decorations to be seen. We sat down on the pristine white leather sectional on coal hued pile carpet. I held my white wine spritzer very carefully. (No I did not choose it! It was handed to us by the hired server as we walked in.) Looking around, there no photos. For a couple as photogenic as Sahara and Kyle, I expected painted portraits and tables cluttered with Boston photos.

Sahara and Margret perched next to each other on matching white leather occasional chairs. I immediately thought of book ends. Our hostess tapped her glass to start the meeting. Sahara did a great job running the meeting. She discussed the beginnings of the swim suit and ended with clips of the latest runway bathing suits. I was impressed. I love organized meetings (is that an oxymoron?) and this was proceeding efficiently. We continued with general discussion time about the reference material and then took a break.

Holly and I met at the beverage center “Did you see any photos?” I nodded no. “It’s set like a magazine page. It is very pretty but cold. As if no one lives here.”

My writer's mind agreed and reviewed things. A light coating of dust showed nothing had been bumped or brushed up against. In homes, even if both people worked, you would walk through a room and brush against a table. Or bump a coaster as you set your drink down. None of that showed here as if no one had lived in the house for a week. Creepy.

Sahara called the meeting back together. We were to take turns explaining our swim suits. and anyone could ask a question or comment. Sahara and Margret went first. We all oohed and awed. Sahara went into great detail about how she designed them and how the seamstress had to order the material. Whitney, Jordan, and Gretchen followed with fun vacation stories about their suits. Holly and I were last. Holly spoke for both of us explaining the history of the bathing suits. The girls clapped. Whitney and Jordan asked a few questions. Holly looked happy and I smiled. My best friend put a lot of work into these suits and deserved the attention. A loud throat clearing cough interrupted the moment.

“They are nice suits if you have not taste for fashion and are fat. This was to be a discussion about fashion. These just hide you. They would never flatter someone like, well say, me.” Sahara paused looking for agreeing nods. No one moved. Sahara continued digging her hole. “What I mean is ,if you read lots of books, maybe you find those kinds of suits attractive. For us normal people,who like pretty things, the suit are ugly.” She smoother her hands over her tiny bikini.

That was it! One heartbeat of silence and I stood up. “Thank you, Sahara. I have not been insulted like this in a very long time. Good night everyone.”

Holly stood up,at the same time and said“Good night.” We turned and walked through the kitchen and out the side door.

We walked to her house diagonally across the street. It was a warm July night and the windows were open. Strains of the latest action movie floated out of her house.

“That was exciting.” Holly whispered.

“That is a word for it. How rude!” I was getting loud and I needed to stop. “You invite us over and insult us. Is that how they host parties in Boston? My stars!” I stomped my foot.

“She doesn’t even have the excuse that she was drunk.” Holly remembered.” My cousin, Riley, is from Boston and has all kinds of photos and knickknacks from Boston in her apartment here. There is nothing in there.” Her face lit up. “I know! It's like one of my students lying about reading the material They can say nothing specific only make general comments. Meaning they have not touched it. It's all fake with her. Why?”

“She is too much for words.” I said.

We stood there a moment more enjoying the light breeze. Someone in the subdivision had started a campfire. It smelled summery. I rubbed my forehead, I needed sleep.

“I will call you in the morning to go over one last time that we have everything for the camping trip. John wants to be on the road by 8am on Friday.” This camping trip had been planned since April. We have each other a hug. “Good night.”

“Good night, Tabitha.”

I walked towards home. Jerry's garage door was open. I heard a car door slam as I walked past. I didn't see anyone.

An hour later, they guys were home and I was snuggled in bed with my book when a text message alert sounded on my phone. I activated the screen. Unknown number “Your bowl will be on the back deck after 9 am.” Really. Was it me or did that feel rude?

My text alert rang again. Holly. “Did you get a message from HER?”

“Yup.” My response.

“See you in the am.” Holly

“Yup”.

Midnight the fireworks started. The Exclusives love to set off fireworks for any reason. On the summer high holidays, they spent thousands of dollars. Not everyone in the neighborhood appreciated their efforts. Charger and I were two of them. He hated them because most dogs do. I didn't appreciate that it went on all the time. On that evening, they started around 1 am and lasted for half an hour. These were really loud. The chorus of neighbor dogs did not quiet down until 2 am.

.John went in early so I was up early. The boys were still asleep. Charger was dozing on the back deck. Coffee was running through my veins. Life was OK. Holly had text-ed me we would meet on the corner and get our bowl and tray.

At 8:55 am the boys were up with cereal, toys and cartoons.

“I will be at the Greentree’s house to pick up my bowl and I will be right home.” I kissed J.J. and Michael. “Charger is in charge.” I reminded them and walked out the door.

“Morning” I said as Holly and I met on the corner. ”I have extra dry goods and extra bathroom supplies. I don't think we will go through two cases of toilet paper in five days.” We walked over to the Greentree property.

Holly nodded. “I have extra marshmallows. Oh, and I found my recipe for a campfire breakfast. It sounds perfect. Yuck! The smell is back.” We were at the side gate leading to the backyard of the Greentree’s house. Holly reached for the latch on the gate and pulled up like we did the night of the party. As we walked further, a swath of silver material stretched and fluttered in the air.

“Oh my gosh! The stained glass window.” Holly whispered. The stained glass monstrosity was smashed at the bottom. Broken pieces were dangled giving the impressions of a giant mouth with loose teeth.

“Hello? Is anyone here?” I shouted. “Sahara? Are you here?” No answer.

We took a few steps closer the window. The deck and pool thing were covered in broken colored glass. “It's a shoe.” Holly said stepping a closer to the mess.

I stepped in front of her moving closer sneakers crunching on the broken glass. “There is a foot in it! And a leg!” It was Sahara Greentree. No mistaking it.

“Oh gosh!” Holly gasped.

“Oh, crap.” I whispered. Holly stepped forward to check the body. I pulled out my phone and called 911. Sahara Greentree was dead in a pool of stained glass and green mucky water.



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