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

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Chapter 4

I ran home to tell the guys I would be a little longer. The sirens brought the neighborhood out. Jordan stood on her front porch, Margret raced down on her Vesta and Becky walked down with the twins in their double stroller. All of Earl Grey Lane and the next street, Oolong Avenue, crowded around the Greentree property. Holly and I were spoken to by police in the middle of the chaos. Yes, it was Sahara Greentree in the middle of colored glass and stagnant water. From the brief look we had of the scene, Sahara had gone through the window and into the pool. “Why?” Good question. When we were done with the standard questions and walked under the police tape. I whispered “See ya” to Holly and ran home to the boys.

I called John when I walked in the door.

“Wow. Strange. Does this mean we can’t leave tomorrow?” John is very practical.

“We are fine. Holly and I asked.”

“What did Kyle say?” John asked.

“Nothing. They have not found him. He does not answer his phone. I'll let you know developments as they come. Love you.” I hung up and opened the fridge. I pulled out fruit and home my home made banana bread. the guys liked and started more coffee. I took a moment to write down everything I had observed at the scene.

My phone beeped with a new text message.

“Let us in quick!” It was from Holly. Michael jumped up and opened the door when he saw his friend Taggart through the glass. Holly and her other son Mitchell tumbled through the door, too.

“They won’t leave me alone! I ducked out when Margret went back to tell the police another of her theories.” I handed Holly a coffee. “Thanks!”

“I am sure the police love helpful people with creative theories and no facts.” I poured milks for the guys and put out extra bread and fruit. Charger was lying in the middle of the everyone enjoying the company.

“Margret acted like I was holding out on her! She yelled at me in front of one of the uniformed men!” Holly took sip. “Oh, and the girls thought it was rude of you to leave without talking to them.” She smiled at the last part.

“I had to get back to the boys.” I shrugged my shoulders.

“That is what I told them so they forgave you a little.” She laughed at my overly dramatic brow wipe of relief.

“Those people live for drama. They should be sad and asking where Kyle is.” I popped a strawberry in my mouth and chewed.”Margret and Jeff know everyone and everything in town. If Margret doesn't know where Kyle went, maybe Jeff does.”

“Well, we did the right thing and now it is in the hands of the police. Do you want to go over the trip supplies? ” Holly refilled our coffees.

Charger jumped up and ran to the door growling. Figures moved outside slightly blurred because of the beveled glass. A knock and the familiar “Yoo hoo “ from Queen nosy herself, Margret. I opened the door to Margret, Jordan, and Becky with the twins.

“Hi! Is Holly here too? I went to talk with Officer Fent about my third angle on the case and when I walked back she was gone.” Margret shook off her designer sandals, ignored Charger’s tail wags for attention and came straight into the kitchen. “Hi, boys.” She waved over her shoulder. Her boys were at football and golf camps. Jordan followed and patted Charger on the head. Her girls were with their nanny for the morning. Becky hefted the girls in the door. Matching baby carriers in purple and pink made me thing of pod people.

“I don’t know what the police are waiting for. They should be looking for Kyle. The statistics say it is almost always the husband.” Margret was an expert on everything.. No matter what you knew about ANYTHING, she knew more and told you so.

The next half hour, Margret held court in my kitchen. Jordan, Becky and Holly nodded. I refilled coffees and trays. Holly would duck out of the fray to check on the boys. Margret took a breath to sip her herbal tea when I caught her looking at me.

“So ,what do you think, Tabitha? You had words with Sahara last night and you were there this morning when the body was found.”

“What does one have to do with the other?” I asked.

“Well, you WERE there!” Margret did not understand. “Maybe you did it.” She placed her hands on her hips.

The group gasped just like on a cartoon. I started laughing. “You have to be smart to kill someone. I am not smart. Cookie?” I handed her a plate of my favorite cheat cookies. Holly was in the great room refilling milk and trying not to be seen laughing.

Margret turned back to Jordan ignoring my cookies. “No thank you. So I think it was Kyle…” She moved her body to exclude me from the conversation. Margret did not like being made fun of. She tolerated my company because she liked Holly. Margret did not like me because I didn't buy the stuff she sold, literally and figuratively. I didn’t talk about myself so she did not know all of my dirty secrets like she knew the rest of the neighborhood. Holly was the only person who knew who I was.

A half hour later, the group left. Holly helped me clean up and then headed home with her boys. We both had packing to do. I told Michael and J.J. to gather their clothes and special things for the trip. The rest of the day was quiet and normal. By the time John got home, we had everything but food packed in the motorhome. He said the police tape was up and there were two police vans parked in the Greentree's driveway.

“Seeing police tape around a home in your own neighborhood is disconcerting.” John said while he checked the systems on the motorhome.

“Yup.” I agreed. Minus the police tape, it was a prefect July night in our area. Cicadas were talking, mosquitoes biting, and kids dashing up and down the street. Charger scratched at the door signaling it was time for a walk.

“Your turn.” John nodded towards the noise.

“OK.” I went to the garage for his lead and we started down the block. The smell of grilled food was all over. Charger was torn between sniffing the ground or the air. People washed their cars and mowed their lawns – a lovely summer evening in Brew Park. Whitney and Tim were out front with the twins playing with a large pink and purple ball. Charger stopped, fascinated with the ball so, we stopped to say hello. The twins toddled over to get Charger big wet kisses.

“Tabitha, wait.” Whitney stood and brushed dog hair off her tan shorts. Whitney had an athletic build but was trying to lose five more pounds.“You know we don’t think you killed Sahara. Margret was only upset because she was not getting more, um, interest from the police. On her theories.” Whitney smiled.

“It’s OK. I know everyone is upset over the news.” Becky was a good kid.

“She probably got the idea from the police. They kept saying it was “interesting” how much you and Holly saw. The officer said you guys had” a really good eye for details”. Whitney smiled hoping I heard the compliment. “Margret was only trying to help the investigation. She told the police every detail she could remember. She was friends with Sahara only a few months, but you know Margret. She gets people to tell her everything.” Whitney laughed.

“Yeah she does. Thanks, Whitney.” I smiled and said I needed to go. Whitney patted Charger’s head and we were done.

I stopped at Holly’s house to pick up my boys. Everyone was inside piled in the family room playing video games. I reported to Holly what I learned on my walk.

“We do have great observation skills.” She said. “Everyone wants to have attention in a crisis. Some more than others.” Holly was right. “OK guys. Finish your scene. It is time to stop.” Holly ordered the boys. We had an early wake up the next morning.

The house was settled for the night. I needed to load the food in the morning and then we would leave for the campground. I was the early to bed, early to rise person. So by 9:30 pm I was snuggled in bed.

2 am. Crash! Crash! Dogs barking and a car alarm started bleating. Charger and I bolted awake and checked the house. The backyard was lit up red and blue. It took a moment to realize it was the police lights. Charger woofed at the lights. He knew it was wrong.

“Why are there lights on in the backyard?” John whispered walking into the kitchen. Charger leaned against his leg wanting to be scratched.

“Don’t know but the nosy neighbor in me wants to know. Come on, Charger.” I grabbed shorts and a jacket to put over my t-shirt. We headed out through the garage.

The block was out en mass. Lights were on all over. Holly was on her front porch with Princess cradled in her arms. I walked over to her. She had on the Malediction Castle t shirt I gave her. Malediction Castle was my first book. The only people in the neighborhood who knew what the t shirt meant lived in her house and my house. Did I mention I am a writer – horror novels. Hi. No on around here reads horror stories so my secret identity is safe. Ha ha.

“Hi. What is it?” I asked stifling a yawn.

“Don’t do that.” Holly yawned back.

“No! No! No!” A man’s voice was talking loudly like a drunk in a bar. “She said it would be alright. There was no problem. No problem. She can't be dead.” The man started to sob. The police walked a larger man away from the torn crime scene tape around the Greentree property. He staggered and lurched sideways on the flat concrete driveway. As they approached the waiting police cruiser, he started sobbing harder dropping to his knees. He turned to the officer on his right. We saw his face. It was Kyle! The harsh light showed his youthful face was worn and sleep deprived. His deep summer tan washed away. He stumbled away from the cruiser, resisting. Kyle would have fallen backwards if a third officer had not caught him. He listed to the left, and looked directly at Holly and I. He blinked over and over like he was trying to focus. Kyle’s eyes grew larger as if a fuzzy thought became clear.

“You knew! She said you knew! And we had to leave! You did this! You would know! She said it was over!” Kyle shouted in our direction. The officers struggled to keep Kyle upright. The crowd and police looked at Holly and me. “We weren’t ready! We didn't do anything wrong!” He collapsed on the concrete.

The ambulance arrived and two police officers climbed in with Kyle on the stretcher. Another officer was taking statements, again, from Holly and I. Did we know what Mr. Greentree was talking about? “No.” Did we have additional contact with Mr. or Mrs. Greentree that we had not already disclosed? “No.” The looks from the neighbors were speculative.

It was 3:30 am when I crawled back in bed. “I’ll tell you on the trip.” I told John and then kissed him good night.

The next day went fast with the trip to the campground, getting registered, and setting up all our stuff. It took the whole day.. We all managed to get on the first evening hayride the first time. That is an accomplishment.. The guys wanted to go on one more hayride and the owner said it was OK. John and Dave stayed with the boys and Holly and I headed back to get the smores ready. Camp site was relaxing. Our hanging lights swung in the light evening breeze. The bug light at the adjacent campsite hummed and flashed at each bug zapped.

“What a busy day. The guys are enjoying the campground. Good suggestion.” Holly and Dave had never been camping here before. They had a deluxe cabin not far from the pull through site for our motorhome.

“We like the way the owners run it. It is reasonably priced, clean and well organized. Most of the people that we have met here have been pleasant.” I grabbed the bag with the smores supplies and handed it to Holly. I poured us each a glass of Shiraz and carried them out to the campfire. “A very pleasant evening. The fireworks over the lake tomorrow night are the best we have seen in the area. We will have a great view from the back deck of your cabin.”

“That is what the girl at the front desk said. The guys are really excited. We are grilling the food at our cabin tomorrow night for dinner, correct?” Holly and I worked great as a catering team. We had joked many times about starting our own restaurant or catering business.

“I am so glad you made your super special potato salad. I have been craving it since the May Brew Parkers meeting.” Holly managed that excellent balance of savory and creamy in her salad. Most just tasted like mayo and pickles to me.

“You were the only one who ate it. I know it is silly to notice but the only thing most of them ate was the vegetable tray. Not even the fruit was eaten!” Holly and I loved to make food and REALLY loved to make food for people who liked food. When people didn’t eat, we took it personally. (Again another reason we were best friends!)

“Was that the month of the 5k? Three or four of them were going to run it. I remember being baffled by grown women wanting to run to simply say they had done it. But, they would not understand the satisfaction of completing a game level with your oldest son.” I smiled remembering the look on J.J.’s face when we completed Mile Marker 5 together. Gaming was something I did with my family, not something given to them to keep them out of my hair.

“Yes to that.” Holly took sip of her wine. “They don’t get our fascination with the “Zombie Candle Masters” book series either.”

“Sad for them. They are a great bunch of ladies. They are all kind and considerate in their own ways. We really do have a great bunch of people on our block.” I had to learn to stop being so negative. Just because I write horror, people assume I am dark and mean. Nope. I am a happy camper. ( Pun intended)”But I don’t think they have our imagination.”

Holly for being super, high IQ smart, had a great imagination! She could see the chemical break down in nature and man, just as well as she could see vampires and werewolves. And she read everything - the latest books listed on book club lists for grownups to the latest young adult novels to esoteric horror. She was also published in her field! Her awesome potato salad was just one of the many icings on the really great cake.

The boys came back and the smores were consumed. The sugar lasted in their systems about 10 minutes and then they were out.

The morning, the fourth of July, the families met at 10 am to enjoy the campground activities. Holly and I took Charger and her dog, Caramel, Mel for short, for a walk. Both were huge hits with every human and dog we met. Both were exhausted from the walk and stuffed from mooched treats. After the dogs were tucked away, we met with the guys for horse shoes and bocce.

“After the games, let’s brave the pool. It is going to be humid today.” Holly suggested.

“Agreed.” I said.

“To keep on the healthy theme, how about that veggie pizza from the main lodge for lunch? We can get something for the guys too.” Holly knew where her priorities were.

“Yummy. We can maybe work off enough in the pool for ice cream, too? I brought some but they have mint at the camp store…” I started.

“Oh no! We have been found! “Holly moaned.

“What? By whom?” I stage whispered.

“Margret!” Holly said. “She must have seen my pictures posted last night. I never thought of her seeing them. She has four parties each day for the long weekend. When does she find time to check a computer? She knows I have a signal here and she wants to text.”

“Oh. Not fun.” I stopped to tie my sneaker.

“She said Kyle is dead. “I raised an eyebrow.” Yes. He died at the police station. They did not have time to get him to the hospital. Sad. She is working on her contacts at the hospital to find out how he died.” Holly scrolled down the screen. “And she wants to know how much sour cream to put in the broccoli salad, the one you made at the April meeting?”

“Half a cup.” It was a recipe I made regularly.

Holly entered the response and turned down the ringer. “I don’t want to think about it. We are on vacation, darn it!”

“I agree. I will back your decision not to answer our phones unless it is for an emergency.” As on cue for a movie, my phone chimed. It was John. “The boys have the same idea. They want pizza for lunch.”

Perfect weather and active families made the day go fast with no mention of dead neighbors. The fireworks were magical. Everything we could want. We all know perfect days come rarely and must be enjoyed.

Monday afternoon found us back at home. The boys expended energy on water gun fights in our backyard. Mel and Charger raced after the boys getting wet and knocking the boys over. Everyone would sleep well tonight. Holly and I would too. We each had 4-6 loads of laundry from the weekend. I looked out the laundry room window and could see the crime scene tape fluttering The kids on the block were staying clear of the property. Good for them. No word from the neighbors about the deaths was a nice break.

Two days later,after dinner, John was under the motorhome checking on the suspension. The road out of the campground had large ruts. I was scrubbing the bathroom and kitchen floors in the motorhome when he yelled for me to come out. I was covered in orange/lemon cleaning solution and grime when I stepped out the door. Margret, Whitney, Gretchen and Jordan were standing the in the driveway. Margret had her perfectly manicured hands on her hips tapping her foot like they do on cartoons. The four of them were perfectly dressed and unmussed in the sultry July weather. I was in my old ripped rock t-shirt, cut off yoga pants with dirt all over them. My ever frizzy curly black hair pulled into a messy bun..

“Hello. This is a surprise.” It was.

“Surprise?” Margret shouted over the cacophony of lawn mowers and leaf blowers screaming in the early evening. She did not have to shout but she wanted her voice to carry. Margret craved an audience at all times. “The surprise was this.” She shoved a color photo in my face.

I took the photo and held it a little further from my face. I didn't have my glasses on. It was a color photo of me. It was a staged photo from the professional sitting my publisher had done for my book back covers and posters for public appearances. I panic inside and tried to projected a cool detached outside. John moved closer to see what she was holding. He knew where this was going.

“Yes, Margret. That is me.” I decided to turn it into a joke. “It is a surprise that I can take a good picture.” I laughed. The peanut gallery started to nervously laugh with me. Margret glared at them and then turned to me again.

“One of the crime scene technicians found these books in Sahara and Kyle’s bedroom...” She continued.

“How would you know what a crime scene tech found in their bedroom?” I asked.

“I was watching them unload the house and asked them questions as any concerned citizen should.” She was indignant about being questioned. “Seth, one of the crime techs, brought a box out of the house and set it down to go in the next truck. I asked him what he found. If it was relevant to the investigation.” Margret was “reciting her lines” as if she was on a television crime show. I was too distracted by the photo she held to laugh. “He said ,he was not sure. HE pointed to the book. He said he liked this author and asked if I had ever read her books. I looked at the title and frowned. I told him I did not read horror books. They were for the uneducated and written by degenerates. I turned to show him what the sick person looked like who wrote this drivel. And what did I find?” She paused dramatically. “My good neighbor on the back of the book.” The Foxton Mirror by T.A. Wolf. Margret held it up so everyone could see the back with my staged photo on it. Crap. My secret was out. Holly came breathless around the corner. Her eyes went wide when she saw what Margret was holding up for the group to see. I assumed John had sent her a text to come over. Even the Cains’ next door had stopped their yard work to see what was going on in our driveway. Jerry walked over carrying a tool John had asked to borrow. He stopped at the edge of the group. Margret held the book over her little head like a preacher holding The Bible to witness. John moved closer to stand next to me.

“You are T. A. Wolf, best-selling horror author!” Margret yelled in my face.

“Thank you. I never thought of myself as a best-selling author.” I smiled responding in a calm sane voice.

Margret fumed. “Why didn’t you tell us?”

“Because it is rude to talk about yourself .” I stated. Holly was laughing behind her hand. Margret must have expected me to deny it and call me out like a witch at the Salem trials. Too much drama for me.

“How long have you been writing?” Jordan asked.

“A while. Since high school probably. “I answered.

“Wow, Tabitha.” Becky said “That’s impressive. Hey, ladies. How about we read on of Tabitha’s books for the next club meeting?” The group agreed with an enthusiastic yes. My catty opinion was Margret was not excited. She rolled her eyes when she said yes.

“Any suggestions on which one to read?” Whitney asked

“The Foxton Mirror is a good choice. It is not as gory as some of the others.” Holly said. She walked up and stood next to me on the opposite side from John.

“You knew?” Margret squeaked the question at Holly.

“Yes. I love her work. I knew who she was when she moved here.” Holly smiled at me.

Michael ran out of the gate to tell me Charger had pooped in the backyard. The group laughed at the soaking wet and very happy 6 year old. They started to break apart now the show was over.

“Duty calls. Ha ha.” I said and excused myself. I followed Michael and Holly followed me. I made a mental note to give him big hug for the well timed distraction. John said bye to everyone and turned back to the motorhome.

“You knew it would happen someday.” Holly said.

“Yeah. I just really hoped it would not be so dramatic.” J.J. had taken care of the offending dog mess, so Holly and I went in for ice tea. I really wanted a Long Island ice tea.

“Well now it is done and they will move on.” Holly said. She signaled her boys it was time to go.” I have to get everyone to baseball practice and then to the in laws for a late dinner.” She gave me a hug.

“I guess.” I shook my head. Now, I am being dramatic. I walked everyone to the front. I went back the motorhome to finish my cleaning.

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