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Feeling guilty from her overindulgence the night before, Erin decided to go for an early-morning run before Scott picked her up to head to Hazel’s. She hadn’t slept very well, which wasn’t surprising, so she needed to make sure she had her thoughts together and her emotions ready for what she might encounter at Hazel’s.
It amazed her as she thought about it that, in all the years she had known Hazel and interacted with her, she had never been inside her house. Gordon had known her for more years than she, obviously, but even he had not been inside her home in the 20 years since Bernie and Bryan had died. It was exceedingly sad. Hazel really had no one she let into her life.
Of course, she had been completely devastated by the loss of her family. She and Bernie had waited 15 long years for a child, so to have that precious boy taken just five years later was a trauma Erin knew not many people could recover well from. So Hazel’s inward turn and her mental collapse, for lack of a better term, was understandable, but still very sad.
Erin didn’t even know what Hazel had done for a job before Bryan came along. She added that to the questions she would ask her dad when they got together with Ellen and Ty and his family later that evening. She sure hoped Hazel was OK.
Arriving back at her apartment sweaty and hungry, Erin took a quick shower, pulled on a long-sleeved Raider’s T-shirt and jeans, and headed to the kitchen where Einstein eagerly awaited her appearance. He wound his body around her legs and meowed pitifully as she shook food into his bowl and refreshed his water. As she set it on the purple and white plastic mat used to keep the slops off the laminate floor, it occurred to her that she didn’t even know if Hazel had any pets. That thought send her into a bit of a panic as she pictured some pitiful kitty going without food for all these days. She glanced at the clock on the stove and saw that she had 30 minutes to get some breakfast before Scott showed up. Cereal and toast it would be.
At exactly 9:00, Scott pulled up outside. Erin had been antsy so she was waiting on her steps, scrolling through Facebook as she waited. She ran down the stairs and hopped into the car. “Good morning,” they greeted each other simultaneously, and then grinned.
Scott pulled away from the house and asked, “Think you’re ready for this? We really have no idea what we’ll encounter.”
Erin shook her head, “No, but it’s necessary, isn’t it? We can’t just do nothing at this point.”
“We went ahead and got things cleared through a county judge so there wouldn’t be any problem with you going in, just in case it’s a crime scene or anything. You let me go first just to make sure it’s safe, and then we’ll still want to use shoe covers and gloves to handle anything.”
“Got it,” Erin acknowledged. But the knot in her stomach tightened just a bit more. Good thing she hadn’t eaten a heavy breakfast.
In just a few minutes, they were pulling into the short drive in front of Hazel’s house. Nothing had changed from a few days before, but Erin still studied every detail. Badly chipped paint. Overgrown weeds. Plywood on the windows. Dead plants on the porch. Oh, Lord. What were they going to encounter inside?
Erin sent up a quick prayer that they actually would not find Hazel, because there was no doubt in her mind that Hazel would not be alive if they did. Scott took a small toolkit out of his glove box and approached the front door, Erin right behind him. He knocked. “Hazel!” He called with a loud voice. “Hazel, it’s Scott Preston, Clairmont PD!”
No sound came from inside the house. So Scott used a tool to slip between the door and the frame and unlock the deadbolt, and another to unlock the door handle. Boy, Erin thought, he made that look easy. Note to self: get better locks!
“Stay here,” Scott reminded her, and then he opened the door and stepped through. After just about a minute he called out, “Erin, you’re definitely gonna want to see this.”
Now even more curious than ever, Erin pushed the door further open and stepped into the entry hall. Her eyes went wide and her jaw dropped open. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing.