Wednesday’s Wafers: weekly series where I share some of my own recent writing.
Chapter 3 of my short story has arrived. I think it’s turning itself into a Mystery!
I hopped into my 1979 Toyota 4×4, and pulled the door shut. Starting the engine, I rolled down the driver’s side window and adjusted the mirror. My Golden Boxer, Soco, was sprawled out on the porch, looking a bit dejected, ears drooping sadly.
“I’ll be back tonight, beautiful. Keep an eye on things, like you always do.” She woofed once in reply, with a brief wag of her tail.
I drove down the dirt driveway, avoiding the cavernous pothole around the curve. Glancing in the rear-view mirror, I took a long look at the crab apple tree planted several feet from the porch steps. I remember the day we dug the hole for it. It was three years ago, on a Saturday, and the sun was shining through the trees surrounding our small farmhouse and patch of property. We’d started early, to avoid having to work in the heat that was expected later in the day.
I hadn’t had any previous experience with gardening unless you count mowing the lawn and watering potted flowers. You had somehow convinced me that we needed this tree, so there we were, lowering the fledgling tree’s mass of roots into the hole. After filling in around it with the rest of the soil that had been dug out, you stood there with the hose, watering it for a good ten minutes. I smiled, remembering how you’d “accidentally” sprayed me a few times, feigning innocence. I had returned the favor, which led to a serious water fight and both of us being drenched after only a few minutes.
Pulling out onto the main road that led to the highway, I checked the clock on the dash. 9:41. Glad I stopped for gas when I went to the store yesterday. Stopping now would make me late.
I cruised along, my mind running down the list of chores I would be doing at Mr. Pagano’s house today. When he hired me, he’d given me a general idea of what he expected, but left it up to me to plan out my time. This was unexpected, but a pleasant surprise.
Turning onto Cedar Lane, I slowed down then pulled up to the third house on the left. A cream and white postmodern four-bedroom home, with an immaculate lawn lined with carefully trimmed hedges.
I was barely on time, although it probably wasn’t a big issue as Mr. Pagano had already left for his job three hours ago. Parking in front of the garage, on the farthest side from the entryway, I grabbed my purse and phone and walked up the stone path. Second-guessing my memory, I rooted around in my wallet for the slip of paper I had copied the new entry code down on. Nicholas had called me yesterday to let me know he had digital keypads installed over the weekend.
After pressing each of the six numbers carefully, I heard the lock click, then grasped the curved handle. As I was pushing the door open, I remembered just in time to look down and be alert for Spooky—who should have been named Sneaky—who, according to Mr. Pagano, liked to wait in the shadows and attempt to slip out the door if you weren’t quick enough.
No kitty monster in sight as I closed the door. A duplicate keypad was on the far wall of the foyer, and I crossed quickly to enter the same code within 90 seconds to disarm the alarm. Well, I fucked it up the first time, the keypad flashing red accusingly at me. Anticipating the blaring alarm, I was ready to cover my ears, while cursing and entering the code correctly this time.
Spooky meowed in greeting from the staircase, then immediately ran to the kitchen, to sit by his food dish. I followed, and set my purse down on the counter.
I spied a note Mr. Pagano had left for me on the table. It included a grocery list and a message about garbage and recycling pick-up days. He thanked me again, and had signed ‘Nick’ with a flourish at the bottom.
After taking care of the ravenous beast, I located the door that led to the garage, and ventured in to look for the plastic garbage and recycling receptacles. They were over in the corner nearest the wide automatic garage door. Looking around, I observed that this was likely the cleanest and most organized garage I’d ever seen. Hopefully that meant that I wouldn’t meet up with too many creepy crawlies.
I lifted the green bin marked “Recyclables”, and saw that it was only about a third of the way full. I was about to drop the lid, when my eyes locked on to the distinct mustard yellow color of a manila envelope sticking out from under some newspaper ads.
I reached in and grabbed it, hoping to find some of its original contents still inside. It was empty. I was disappointed, but was not surprised. I flipped it over, and read the address label, confirming that this was the same envelope I’d briefly seen last Friday. It was addressed to Mr. Nicholas Pagano, and was from Absolute Protection Enterprises. Or, A.P.E. for short. I snickered, even as I rifled through the other papers on the top of the pile, looking for anything that might be from the same company.
Not finding anything that appeared useful, I laid the envelope on top of the bin and snapped a photo of the address with my phone, then tossed it back inside.
I hadn’t discovered any visible cameras in the living area last week, when I had briefly scouted the place while vacuuming. But I mentally kicked myself for not checking the garage just now, before taking the photo. Looking around again, but with an eye for blinking lights and reflective lenses, I was relieved that there didn’t appear to be any in here either.
My husband, Morgan, would have commented that for someone who managed a security company, this guy didn’t appear to represent the industry very well. He would have said that, if he were around.
A lump formed in my throat, and my eyes teared up. I brushed them away and gave my head a shake, to clear away the memories for the time being. I needed to be strong and I damn sure needed to find out what really happened to my cowboy, the love of my life.
Back in the kitchen, I brewed a cup of java and started planning dinners for the week, exploring the pantry and refrigerator to find out if anything else should be added to Mr. Pagano’s grocery list.
After a busy day of shopping, cleaning and dodging kitten attacks, I was glad to be headed home. A good country song came on the radio so I turned it up and sang along all the way to the end my driveway. I locked it up, and Soco ran up to greet me, bouncing around, overjoyed that I hadn’t abandoned her forever.
Before climbing the steps, I stopped in front of our crab apple tree, affectionately named ‘Auntie Apple’ by Morgan the day after she was planted. I reached out and touched one of her branches, and whispered, “Thank you for holding my fears.” This was one of our rituals. It was his idea. He said that we should always feel safe in our home and in each other’s arms, so he declared that Auntie Apple would be appointed to hold our fears for us before stepping inside. And in his arms, there had only been love.
Soco followed me inside, and raced me to the sofa, jumping up just before I dropped heavily onto the cushion next to her. She laid her head on my lap and looked up at me with those dark, expressive eyes of hers. “I know, angel. I miss him too.”
But now I am finally starting to heal and was ready to continue on the path towards some concrete answers. I laid my head back to relax, and caressed Soco’s soft ears. My mind, refusing to relax, was spinning, as I wondered how long I would have to wait, until I could access Mr. Pagano’s laptop. He was in the dark as far as any relation I had to Morgan, and his own company. But he certainly was not in the dark about events that led up to my husband’s disappearance.