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

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Chapter 8

Wendy's contact was to send me information sometime today. After lunch, the sunny hot day led us to have a squirt gun fight. John and Michael won. They had John's height and Micheal’s speed. J.J. and I had strategy. It didn't work this round. It felt wrong to play games while my best friend suffered but we agreed to keep things as normal as we could for the boys. I made snacks for them and went to the front porch for quiet time and to dry off. The teak bench on the front porch had weathered to a warm, natural color. My faded rock t-shirt and cotton shorts were almost dry from the water gun battle. As I sat, the neighborhood sang with the song of suburbia. Lawn mowers, leaf blowers, incessant dog barking and kids screaming and singing at the same time. The crab apple tree hid me from anyone on the street allowing me to observe without being observed. The mature ladies walking group went by. These three choose to walk in the middle of the road at a given pace -extremely slow. If a car needed the road, they would turn, give the driver a “How dare you!”, look and slowly move over to let the car past. I still didn't know their names after nine years. I knew the short lady who wore multicolored curlers in her hair, as she walked, lived in the ranch house with too many flower pots. I would see her sitting in her 60's plastic woven lawn chair pointing to the plants she wanted watered. Her husband, gray haired and hunched over, carried the bright pink plastic watering can to each pot as she pointed to it. He smiled and waved at the boys and I as we would walk by. She just glared. My writer's brain wondered if he was really waving at us for help. Maybe, he was trapped in an invisible force field and couldn't escape her evil house of terror. You never know. I did not know where the other two ladies lived. The taller lady of the group carried a large walking stick. Why? In case of a dog attack? Maybe. Charger was the largest dog in an eight block radius. The rest were small to tea cup sized. Maybe she was afraid they would swarm her? J.J. came to the screen in the dining room with my phone.

“Mom, you have a message.” He was looking at the screen image on my phone and laughed.

I came in the house and took the phone. The wallpaper was a silly shot of the three of them.

“Thanks”. I hugged him and kissed him on the head. He shook his head and walked back to the main room. They were all inside playing a first person shooter. It was John's turn.

I went to messages.

“Get over here please!!!!!” From Holly.

Holly and the crew had back to back baseball games and a birthday today. She told me they would be home really late.

“I am running to Cherish's. I shouldn't be long.” I gave everyone a quick kiss and left through the garage's side door.

I waved to Pastor Woods mowing his lawn. He waved and kept mowing.

Holly was standing in her driveway dressed for the busy afternoon. Her SUV was packed with folding chairs, coolers and picnic blankets.

“You rang.” I walked up and gave her a hug. Holly turned and pointed at the pretty urn broken and on its side. “ Oh, bummer. I 'll help clean it up so you can get going.” I went towards the garage.

“No. Look.” Holly stepped closer to the pile of flowers and dirt pointing She looked scared.

Walking back over, I followed her finger to exactly where she was pointing.

“I don't think Jerry will be that upset....what is that? “ I reached towards the wire protruding from the tangle of Gerber daisies. It was a microphone, very small and meant to be hidden. It was hard to see mixed in with the planting materials.

“So, this does not belong to one of the guy's toys?” I asked and Holly nodded no.

“I was afraid to touch it and get finger prints on it. Tabitha, I know I should call Detective Hite but I don't know what they will do.” Holly was right as usual. We had no idea what would happen but knew what we had to do.

“Call him. I will stay with you.” Dave was a half hour away and bringing him and the guys back here would not help. I sent John a text that I would be longer.

“Detective Hite said to wait for him and not touch anything.” Holly said pressing the red button on her phone.

“We will find out it's nothing and Detective Hite will laugh at us. And, you can resume your fun, busy Friday.” We waved at Whitney and Jordan walking their little ones. I looked down the road holding my breath . I leaned over the mess. The mini microphone was the only odd object. I couldn't find the end of it. The bottom of it disappeared into the dirt.

“Tabitha, what is it? You have one of your looks.” Holly sat on the concrete step turning her mobile phone over and over.

“Jerry gave us these planters in, when, the end of April? If the microphone, and I think it is one, is tangled in the roots of the flowers that would mean it has been in there the whole time. It would have been there before the murders.” I shook my head. “Who would want to listen to an average suburban family?”

Detective Hite drove up. He was dressed in business causal. A tan polo shirt and dark gray pants made him look taller than his suit did when we last met.

“Dr. Cherish. Mrs. Wolf. Beautiful day. What can I do for you?” Holly pointed to the broken planter. The detective strolled over and bent down. Just like on TV, he used the tip of his pen to lift up the exposed end of the mini-microphone. If this was not my best friend being investigated, this would have been great research for my stories.

Hite took photos of the destroyed planter with his cellphone. “And no one touched it? “We nodded no. “This is not a toy from one of your kids or the neighbor's?” We nodded no. The detective went back to his car and took out an evidence bag, shovel and disposable gloves. A few minutes later , Detective Hite had the entire mess cleaned up. “Thank you for your cooperation. Dr. Cherish. Mrs. Wolf.” He nodded and turned to leave.

“Um, Detective. There is another urn at my house. Our neighbor, Jerry Forton, gave Holly and I each one as a gift.” I thought he should know.

“Do I have your permission to examine the urn at your house?” The detective was serious.

“Yes, of course. Whatever we can do to help.” I got up and so did Holly.

“Dr. Cherish, please remain here.”

I texted John we were on our way over. He met us on the front porch by the urn.

“Detective Hite? John Wolf.” They shook hands. And the detective showed his badge.

“I am here on a matter concerning the Greentree deaths. Your wife said you have an urn of flowers like the ones Dr. Cherish has. They were given to Mrs. Wolf and Dr. Cherish by your neighbor, Jerry Forton.” Detective Hite pointed to the urn next to our front door.

“That is correct.” John stepped to the side.

Detective Hite took a few photos with his phone and then used his pen to move the plants around. After a moment, he separated the a mini-microphone like the one at Holly's. He stood up and spoke to John and I.

“I will need to take this into evidence.” Hite said pointing at the urn.

“Yes. We understand.” John said.

After Hite got his car and loaded the second, I walked back to Holly.

“He didn't take you away. That's good.” I put my arm around Holly and gave her a quick hug. She shook her head and looked over at the empty Greentree house. “I have a theory about them. I know you guys have big plans this weekend and you want to keep things normal for the boys. Can you come over on Sunday night? I will have food and the guys can hang out.”

“Sunday is good. I have nothing to do for work and no practices or games that night.” Holly kept staring at the house. “I will text Dave and tell him I will meet him at the next game.” She looked at me and frowned. “I just want to stop feeling scared. As if the police are going to break down the door and take me away.” Holly's phone beeped. “I feel as if everyone else has their doubts.” We waved at a passing mini-van. I gave Holly another hug.

“We will figure something.” I didn't know what else to say.

Two hours later, my phone rang with an unknown number. “Hello?”

“Mrs. Wolf, this is Officer Bowden. I was wondering if you had time to talk with me.”

“Sure, Officer. What can I do for you? “ I saved my open story file on the computer.

“I'm off shift at six tonight. May I come over?” Officer Ted in the hushed, rushed whisper.

“Yes. I am home all evening, Officer.”

A background voice spoke to Ted. “Yeah, I'll be right there. I have to go.” Officer Ted hung up.

John had grilled steaks and burgers, I made a salad and the boys and I had baked cookies. I set out a plate for Officer Boden . John grilled a fresh sirloin for our guest.

“Please, call me Ted.” After half an hour of general conversation, Ted pushed his empty plate away. “Um, I know I can tell you something and it won't go anywhere, right?” He looked from John to me. We nodded.

“The CSU people submitted their final report. The Greentree's house was not broken into. It was staged.” Ted sipped the home brewed ice tea. “The mess in the house was all fake. There was broken glass and stuff over turned but nothing taken that the technicians could see.” His eyes wondered over in the direction of the Greentrees.

“Thank you for keeping me up to date.” This news did not help Holly.

“I know your friend is listed as a suspect.” Ted looked awkward.

I had nothing to hide. “Yes. She is. I know she did not do it. I want to prove it.”

“That is nice of you. But, the evidence is stacked against her.” Ted stood up shaking his head. Charger sat up wanting one more ear scratching. Our guest obliged him. A couple minutes of car talk with John and Ted moved leave. “Oh, you will see some movement at the Greentree house tomorrow. The state is coming in to clean it out.” Ted added at the last minute.

“Thanks. So, no one turned up to take their belongings?” John asked the question before I could.

“Nope. Procedure is to boxes up the belongings and move them to a secured sight.” We had moved out front to Ted's car. He looked at me and smiled nodding.

“Yes! Great! Great information for my research. Thank you, Ted. You are huge help.” Always good to praise your sources.

I walked into the kitchen and began cleaning up. John brought in the detritus from the deck. My phone rang on the kitchen desk. The screen showed it was Wendy.

“Hey!”

“Hey is right! What is going on up there? Suburbia is getting trashy. Listen to who your neighbors are! Get a pen.” Wendy was always great with information.

“OK. Go.”

“Sahara Greentree did not exist until nine months ago. She was Mildred Black,33, stripper turned call girl. A caricature of a small town nobody, not to be rude. Kyle Greentree is the same story. Did not exist until nine months ago. He was Theodore “Teddy” Planter, 27. Again, he is so cliché it makes you want to puke. He never held a job for more than 9 months. Always in get rich quick schemes that never worked. Last known job was as a bouncer for the same club Mildred worked at. Whatever happened nine months ago, something got them both placed in the witness protection program and living in Brew Park subdivision. Yikes!” Wendy took a breath and a sip of something. If I knew my oldest best friend and mentor the drink was fruity and alcoholic. “Now, this Jerry and Roger Forton do not exist anywhere. Nothing on any database or alias list. They fell from the sky and no one has ever heard of them.”

“But, how can he have a house or credit cards?”

“Dear, you will never be a criminal.” She laughed. “There is always a way. The address you gave me is rented ,by what my contacts assume, is a “shell” company. I need a photo of these guys to send to my contacts.”

“Got it. I'll get something to you. Hey, I found out tonight the police are having the Greentree house cleared out tomorrow. I wonder if I would find any clues in their belongings?”

“Tabitha, Honey. That only happens in books.” She took another sip of her fruity cocktail.

Saturday morning, I was up and ready for the packers. I know Wendy told me it only happens in books but I have to try something! The police had looked over everything else. Now, it was up to me to take another look.

The boys were playing with building blocks and watching a movie. John was moving the lawn.

“Guys, I have to talk to someone outside for a little bit. Stay here and play. “ I grabbed the always handy cellphone and headed out.

The Greentree house was flanked by two trucks; one marked “moving and storage” and the other “residential cleaning”. I walked up and watched them work. I saw my opportunity. A younger girl with very straight green hair was carrying three boxes and the top most one was sliding. I rushed up to catch it.

“Wow. Good catch. Thanks!”She smiled and inclined her head toward the truck. “Do you mind?”

“No problem. “ I walked up the ramp and and placed boxes on the pile in back. The girl waited at the entrance of the truck for me to come back and take her boxes. Up close the girl looked younger than I expected. “Have you done this a long time?”

“This is my second time. Still freaks me out .” She swung her head back and forth looking for the other workers. “Hey, we are not supposed to leave the truck alone. Would you watch it for a second so I can catch a smoke? I know it's clean in there but, you know, I wonder about, you know, spirits and stuff.”

“Sure.” Could it be that easy? The neighborhood ran around with no mind to the moving.

The girl came back after maybe ten minutes. In that time, four more boxes came into the van. None of the other workers questioned why I was in the moving van. I reviewed the contents of each box as thoroughly as I could. Nothing. More nothing. And another helping of nothing. Crap. After twenty minutes, the team was done. I had chatted with the green haired girl and the rest of the crew and learned absolutely nothing. A waste of time. I walked home and texted the bad news to Holly. She texted back to stop over for a snack. One of their games was canceled and they were home. The boys and I cleaned up a few things before going over to the Cherish house. My phone chirped. It was Wendy.

“Sit. There are lots of things you don't know about your neighbor Jerry Forton.” Wendy started I asked her to hold on and told the boys to go over the Holly's and tell her Daddy and I would be over soon. Fifteen minutes later,John and I walked over to join the boys.

Holly had the back deck set with refreshments. I hugged Holly and sat down.

She poured me an ice tea and smiled a sad smile. “Thank you for trying. It sounded like a good idea. It works in our favorite books.” Holly smiled and shrugged her shoulders. The boys were playing around us.

“Agreed. Wendy called as we were heading over. Her contacts found information on our neighbors.” I looked around to see who is out in their yards. Holly moved closer, understanding my concern. “According to her well informed sources, Jerry and Roger do not have a home, mortgage credit cards or an income. Nor do they have cars, have never purchased groceries., do not pay taxes and have no presence on the internet. I told her about the planters with the mini-microphones. She agreed something is not right and would keep digging. And of course she checked witness protection. Nothing there.”

“Jerry. Our Jerry. And adorable Roger. It has to be a mistake...Wow! I sound as gullible as the people in bad movies.” Holly tried to laugh but shuddered instead. “Now I have the creeps. We have been so nice to him the whole time. He lied to us.”

“If he had legitimately changed his name there would be a record. There is nothing to be found. We need the police to check out the house and out find out who they are. The hold up would be the police do not reason to search the house. Fortons have done nothing wrong.. Do we tell the police or go in and search for clues ourselves?” I took a bit of a chocolate covered strawberry.

Holly took a quick sip of ice tea and then put down her glass, her hand shaking noticeably “The school called. I need my name to be cleared before I can return to the school. The board wants me completely cleared without going into a trail. Or I am 'relieved of my post. ”



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