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Chapter 21—Start

As I’m nearing the end of the 31-day challenge, this will be the last chapter I post here. My goal is to eventually work it up to a publishable book. If I don’t get that far or those I ask to evaluate it for me don’t think it has potential, then I’ll finish it here and let it stand as is.

Thanks for commenting and for following this far. I hope you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read. I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether or not you think it can be beefed up and turned into a book. Meanwhile, don’t forget this is unedited! You can start chapter 1 here.

Chapter 21

Start

As they cleared the table and put away leftovers to have for dinner, Erin started filling in the family on what she and Scott had uncovered that morning. There were many “Whats?” and “No ways!” and other assorted exclamations as she unveiled the curiosities of Hazel’s home and what appeared to be her hidden life. They made their way back out to the deck to continue the discussion in the sunshine.

Finally, Gordy couldn’t hold it in any longer and exclaimed, “I’ve known Hazel for 30 years! I mean, after the accident, things really changed with her, but how could I have missed this?”

Tyler sat on the wicker love seat on the far side of the deck with his arm around Liz. “If someone doesn’t want to let you in, you can’t force your way in, Dad,” he replied. “Breaking and entering isn’t just for criminals, you know.”

Gordon put his head in his hands as he sat next to Ellen opposite Ty and Liz. “I really considered Bernie and Hazel friends, but I actually can’t think of one time when we were invited to their house. They were a pretty normal couple, and ecstatic after they had Bryan.”

Erin said, “Hopefully Scott will uncover some things as he investigates. I’m anxious to do more searching in that house myself, but I don’t think he’s going to give me that chance.”

Cory took her hand. “It’s probably best you let the pros do the work anyway, babe. If somehow organized crime is involved, it’s best to stay out of the way.”

“Anybody want to spend a nice day at Green Glass Winery?” Erin joked.

Everyone laughed to ease the tension a little, and conversation went on to other topics. Sarah being one of them.

Ellen said, “I saw Sarah on campus the other day. I waved and called her name, but she didn’t hear me, or at least didn’t acknowledge that she heard me.”

Gordon grimaced, well aware that his youngest daughter wasn’t making the best of choices these days. “She’s being pretty distant with me these days. I’m worried about her.”

Erin loved her little sister to pieces, but she knew there had been a string of boyfriends in the last several months and Erin wasn’t at all comfortable with the sorority involvement she was having. She knew she was stereotyping again, but parties were just too much a part of that life. And she knew that her dad didn’t know the half of it.

Suddenly Erin jumped as her phone vibrated in the back pocket of her jeans. She pulled it out and saw a message from Scott, pulling her right back into the saga that was never far from her mind.

“Interesting stuff turning up. Want to talk?”

Erin quickly thumbed her reply: “Can you head up to my dad’s? We’re all here.”

“Yep. Be there in 15.”

She turned off her phone and told the group, “Scott’s got some information. He’s going to come over and fill us in.”

Just then Liz heard baby TJ babbling in the guest room, so she got up to get him while Ty said, “So, Scott and Pepper? Any progress in that arena?”

Cory laughed heartily at that comment and Erin groaned. “No, dang it! She’s so stubborn. That man is a gem. I’m gonna have to give her a long talking to.”

“Oh no you don’t” Cory added. “They’ve got to work this out on their own. Scott’s no pushover. He’ll wait her out. He can be pretty persuasive.”

Scott and Cory had been best friends for years, ever since playing basketball together in high school, though Scott was a senior when Cory was a freshman. Although they had gone to different colleges, they had stayed in touch, and after graduating from the Police Academy, Scott had settled in Clairmont. He had just recently become the youngest detective in the history of the Clairmont police force.

His family life had been rough when his police officer father had been killed in the line of duty, and his teacher mother had to raise him and his three brothers on her own. His mom lived in nearby Alameda while his brothers were all married and living in other cities, and one in the Seattle area. They were very close and he was proud of all of them.

A few minutes later, they heard the sound of Scott’s weekend ride, his bright red Honda Shadow Sabre motorcycle, pull up in the driveway. Erin opened the front door to let him in before he knocked, and there were hugs and handshakes all around.

“Congrats on making detective,” Ty said as they sat down on the deck with everyone else. “We haven’t seen you since that happened.”

“Thanks,” Scott replied. “I’m really excited for the opportunity to do some good out there.” He laughed. “That didn’t sound cliché at all, did it.”

Settling in to his seat, Scott said, “Well, I won’t beat around the bushes. In just a short time, I learned a lot about our friend Hazel Hodges.”

Out of the blue, Ellen gasped. “Wait, you guys have talking about Hazel Hodges this whole time? Hazel Garzetti Hodges?”

Gordy took Ellen’s hand with concern, “I actually never knew her maiden name, but maybe it’s the same person. How many Hazel Hodges can there be out there?”

“Oh, my dears,” Ellen said, “Hazel Garzetti is the heiress of the Garzetti news empire. And her husband, Ruben Bernard Hodges, didn’t just work for the government, he was an agent for the DEA.”

 

 

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Chapter 20—Audience

I feel like things are really ramping up in this story. I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far. Please leave me a comment or criticism or suggestion. Remember this is unedited, so I’m sure there are some loose ends or continuity errors that I need to know about. Start chapter 1 here if you haven’t read the beginning. Enjoy!

Chapter 20

Audience

 

Cleaning her apartment and picking up some groceries filled the rest of the morning before Erin headed to her dad’s place. She was looking forward to the family time. Her brother, Tyler, his wife, Liz, and their baby boy TJ (Tyler Jr.) would be there as well as her dad’s lady friend, Ellen. Erin wasn’t one of those daughters who never wanted her father to remarry, thinking it would sully the image of her mother, or that the new woman would try to take Erin’s mom’s place in her life. Ellen was a gift. She was sweet, smart, funny and a great match for her dad.

Gordy and Ellen had met at an economics summit in San Francisco two years ago where Gordy had been one of the session speakers and Ellen was in the audience. She approached him after his session to ask some follow up questions and they ended up in one of the hotel restaurants, talking and laughing the night away. The next day, Ellen was returning to San Diego, but they exchanged contact information and promised to stay in touch. It helped that she had grown kids in the Bay Area; one in nearby Silicon Valley and one a little further out in Sacramento. She tried to make the trip north at least once a month since flights were fairly inexpensive. Erin hadn’t asked her dad his intentions, but she was hoping there would be a wedding soon.

At a little after noon, Erin jumped in her Bug to make the short trip up the hill to her dad’s house. He still lived in the house she grew up in, along a sparsely populated stretch of Skyline Dr. that offered an amazing panoramic view from the Dumbarton Bridge on the south that spanned the Bay from Fremont to Menlo Park, and the iconic Golden Gate to the north. She never tired of that view. Her parents had bought the place soon after they married in 1986. Being an economist helped Gordy when it came to buying real estate in such a beautiful area. He played his cards right, and they were able to get the 3500 sq ft fixer upper for a steal and then slowly work on it themselves over the years, until now it was a showcase of warmth and beauty that Erin was loathe to leave.

If it hadn’t been for her great desire to be independent and not be in her dad’s way, she would have stayed forever. As she rounded the last curve before his driveway, Erin gave thanks for the closeness of her family, which in turn made her sad that Hazel didn’t seem to have anyone. She made a mental note not to forget to ask her dad all the questions that were running through her head after her morning adventure.

As she pulled into the driveway, Erin’s dad opened the garage door, having heard the distinctive Beetle engine. “Go ahead and pull in,” he called. “It will leave more room for the others.”

She obliged, pulling in next to his silver BMW, careful not to open her door too wide lest she bump his prize possession, and then jumped out to hug her dad. “Ellen’s not here yet?”

“No,” Gordy replied as he led the way into the kitchen from the garage, “she was stopping off at Italian Colors to pick up our order for lunch.”

“Oh, yum!” Erin exclaimed. “I love that place. When are Ty and Liz getting here?”

“Should be any minute,” Gordy answered, bringing plates, utensils, cups and napkins out onto the deck facing the Bay. It was a gorgeous day to be outside, and even though the dining room offered just as spectacular a view, Erin preferred to be outside. Inside, the dark wood dining table sat in the middle of the large dining room facing the Bay windows. At the moment, the French doors were thrown open to let the 70-degree day flow in. Erin stood at the rail of the deck, looking out over the sunlit Bay, remembering what it was like to live here.

The entry level of the house was all open concept with the kitchen, dining room and living room all flowing into each other with a breakfast bar with an island range separating the kitchen and dining room. Susan and Gordy had remodeled that kitchen just a couple of years before she had gotten sick. Erin was sad that her mom hadn’t gotten to enjoy it for very long. She was an amazing cook.

Also on the entry level were Gordy’s office, a full bathroom and a guest room. Upstairs, there were three more smaller bedrooms including the master bedroom with full bath and another separate bathroom. When she lived there with Sarah and Tyler, those were their rooms, and sharing the bathroom wasn’t very much fun, but they got it done.

Downstairs was a big open family/rec room with a pool table, wet bar and theater system. It opened up onto a beautiful brick paver patio that was screened from the neighbors by tall green hedges of juniper and boxwood. There was a fire pit as well as a hot tub. Her friends in junior high and high school thought they must be the richest people in the neighborhood, but Erin knew that her parents just knew how to find bargains and do a lot of work themselves. It was an idyllic childhood.

Right up to the point where her mom got sick. Erin was in high school, Ty had graduated from college and was working, living in an apartment in Berkeley with a couple of friends, and Sarah was on the cusp of being a teenager. It was a tough time for everyone. Mercifully, because pancreatic cancer is a quick killer, Susan hadn’t lingered. Within five months of the diagnosis, she was gone.

Erin shook off her reverie as she heard voices in the kitchen. Ty and Liz always came with laughter and a whole lot of love. Tall and slender, Ty towered over his five-foot- five-inch wife. His strawberry blonde hair exactly matching hers. He held up two bags brimming with fresh produce from his job at Berkeley Bowl, one of the premiere grocery shopping experiences in the East Bay. Erin loved that place. She joined them in the kitchen and began emptying the bag. Artichokes, asparagus, yellow spaghetti squash and short round acorn squash, apples and a beautiful baking pumpkin. Her mouth watered just thinking about what she could make with those.

“Arm wrestle you for ’em” she told her dad, laughing, then turned to take baby TJ out of Liz’s arms. He squealed in delight as he saw her. Nothing like a baby to melt an aunty’s heart.

Soon, Ellen arrived with copious amounts of food from their favorite Italian restaurant in the Village and Cory came soon behind, bearing two bottles of red wine. “I guessed Italian,” he laughed as he set the bottles down and gave Erin a quick kiss before TJ grabbed his hair.

Laughter prevailed as they quickly set out all the food containers and sat down at the table, TJ in a booster seat between his parents. He knew he had an audience, so he regaled everyone with his antics of throwing absolutely everything they gave him onto the deck. There was a lot of catching up to do, since the family hadn’t been together in several weeks. All they were missing was Sarah, and it was empty without her.

When TJ began rubbing his eyes, Ty went to set up the portable crib and Liz got TJ out of his chair to change his diaper. He would sleep for a couple of hours while the adults continued to converse.

“So,” Erin began when Ty and Liz came back to the table. “I have some interesting news about Hazel.”

Chapter 19—Who

Welcome again to my 31-day writing challenge where I am attempting to write a fictional story in just 31 days. I’m sure I will be doing a ton more after October ends, but for now, this is a purely unedited, freely written story. Start here if you’ve missed the beginning. Every other chapter can be accessed by clicking the “previous post” link at the bottom. Comments are welcomed!

Chapter 19

Who

 

“I feel like I’m in an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone,’” Erin said out loud, but mostly to herself.

Scott looked up, “I know what you mean. Come look at this.”

Erin scooted back around the bar, walked to the desk and looked over Scott’s shoulder as he navigated the mouse on the computer. “Weird thing is, there wasn’t any password. I was able to get right in.” Erin tried to make sense of what she was seeing.

“I’m no cyber expert,” Scott admitted, “but it looks like she was doing a lot of research on Green Glass Vineyards and Winery. By the looks of it, she was also hacking into their computer system.”

Erin didn’t think she could be shocked by anything anymore, but she was shocked. “Hazel? A computer hacker? What in the world?”

“I know, right? People aren’t always what they seem,” Scott acknowledged as he continued scrolling and searching on the computer. “I loved my cyber intel classes at the Academy, but this is beyond me.”

Erin turned around to peruse the folders and books that were neatly lined on the shelves behind the desk, her blue eyes wide as she digested what she was seeing. Most of the folders had names she didn’t recognize: Manny Mancado, Ralph Spanoli, Eddie Franco. She hated to stereotype, but these sounded like mob names. She continued, finding more names: Joey Randall, Michael Powers, Ken Cramer. Those names didn’t mean anything to her. She looked at the spines of the books. “Barry & ‘the Boys’: The CIA, the Mob and America’s Secret History,” “American Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power,” “The Grim Reapers – the anatomy of organized crime in America,” “Mafia: The History of the Mob.”

 

“Scott,” she said over her shoulder, “what do you make of these?” She read off the titles to him. “Could Hazel have uncovered something going on at Green Glass Winery?”

“Bernie worked for the government, right?” Scott asked.

“But I thought he was just a data analyst,” Erin answered. “Could he have been more than that? I mean, all the wine bottles over there, “ she pointed in the direction of the bar, “every single one, is from Green Glass Winery. Something is definitely going on.”

“Agreed,” Scott said. “I think it’s time to do some digging back at headquarters.” He glanced at his watch. “Whoa, it’s almost 11:00. I’m supposed to meet Cory at the park at 11.”

Erin was loathe to leave with so many more questions instead of answers. “Can I stay and keep looking around?” she asked Scott.

He stood, turned off the computer and shook his head. “Not a good idea, Erin. We need this to be completely on the up and up in case we discover criminal activity. I will report everything we did and saw, but I can’t leave you alone in the house since you’re not family.”

“I understand,” Erin said, “I’m just so intrigued and worried and, and, I don’t even know what else I am.” She followed him out of the room, switching off the light, and headed back up the stairs. “So where do we go from here?”

“I wonder if there’s a key around here somewhere,” Scott said as he made his way to the kitchen. “It would be nice to not have to break in next time.” Both of them started opening drawers, finding the normal silverware, cooking utensils and potholders. Erin thought about where her dad kept his spare key and headed to a door off the kitchen that looked like it might lead to a walk-in pantry.

“Bingo,” she said, as she opened the door and stepped in. Just to the left was a series of hooks on which were keys neatly labeled: garage, Honda, front door. Grabbing the key labeled “front door,” she strode back to the entry hall to try it in the locks. It fit in both the knob and the deadbolt.

They stepped outside into the warming morning, locking the door behind them, and then heading to Scott’s car. “I’m going to meet Cory for our game,” he told Erin, “and then I’ll head to headquarters and start looking into some things and talk to Lt. Griffin. Let me see where it gets me at this point.”

“My family is getting together at my dad’s place later this afternoon for the rest of the day,” Erin said. “I’m going to pick his brain about who exactly he thinks Hazel Hodges is.”

“Good luck with that,” Scott laughed as he backed the car out of the driveway. “But if we can’t figure out ‘who,’ we definitely need to figure out ‘where’ for now.”

 

 

Chapter 18—Search

We’re coming down to the wire with this 31-day challenge! I hope you have enjoyed following along on this journey. If you’re new around here, you can start chapter 1 here. Also, I’ve made a few little changes to the story. I felt it worked better for Scott to be just slightly older and a detective instead of a rookie cop fresh out of the Academy, so you’ll see some of those changes reflected from here on. Let me know what you think!

 

Chapter 18

Search

 

As Erin followed Scott down the wide carpeted stairs leading to the lower level, she couldn’t help but wonder what they had been missing all these years. From Hazel’s outward appearance and persona, she was pretty certain no one would have guessed that she lived like this. Everyone in the Village thought the accident that took her family had caused a mental breakdown. She always wore the same clothes no matter the weather. She did not speak much to anyone, but when she did it was very polite and quiet, and she never opened herself up to deep conversations with anyone. She never let anyone come and help repair or keep up the outside of the house, that was obvious from its run-down state. Erin wanted nothing more than to find her and then sit with her and learn what was going on behind the façade. She was absolutely certain at this point that it was a façade.

Entering the downstairs living area solidified that belief. As the staircase took a turn to the right, the typical laundry room appeared. Nothing unusual there. Top-loading washer sat alongside a front-loading dryer. Nothing high end or fancy, but good quality, looked like it had been around for a long time. Ironing board with an iron waiting to be used hung in a special nook in the wall above a wooden dryer rack. An empty laundry basket stood on the tile floor next to the dryer. Out of curiosity, Erin opened the washer and then the dryer. Both were empty.

To the right of the laundry room, through an arched doorway was a playroom that would have been heaven for any small kid. Surrounded by a plastic removable gate was a ball pit filled with colorful balls about three inches in diameter each. There was a large TV and a VCR with stacks of kids movies underneath. Low white shelves lined the far wall filled with books to be read and games just waiting to be played. Like Bryan’s room, this one didn’t look like it had been touched in twenty years.

Giving it just a cursory glance for the moment, Erin turned toward the opposite side of the laundry room where Scott had flipped on an overhead light and was now standing and staring. Erin moved to his side and saw why. A modern office that would be the envy of any tech geek stood out as an anachronism to the untouched 90s of the rest of the house. State of the art computer equipment sat on a glossy black desk. At least three monitors, none of which were currently on, faced a high-back black chair. Shelves lined the wall behind the desk with neatly labeled file folders and books in immaculate order covering every inch.

“I’m ceasing to be surprised by anything I see,” Scott said as he moved to turn on the computer and begin a search of what he might find.

While he did that, Erin walked over to the wine bar in a corner by a plywood-covered picture window. She walked behind the bar and, unlike Scott, was again stunned by what she found. Every bottle of the hundreds she found in every cubby of that bar was from one place: Green Glass Vineyard and Winery.

The plywood all around the house began to make sense. Hazel didn’t want anyone to see what was going on inside her house, just like she didn’t want anyone to see what was going on in her head.

Chapter 17—Pause

I’m more than halfway through this experiment, using prompts provided by Kate Motaung for the Five Minute Friday community. I went with a story idea rather than 31 separate posts, so if you’ve missed the first chapters of the story, you can start here. It’s a completely unedited free write of at least 5 minutes at day. Comments are encouraged!

Chapter 17

Pause

 

“Oh. My. Word.” Erin gasped. She stood stunned just inside the front door and gaped at the stunning interior of Hazel’s house. Never in a million years would she have guessed from the outside that her house would hold the treasures it did.

Before they went any further, Scott handed her disposable gloves and booties to put over her shoes. Neither of them believed at this point that this was a crime scene of any sort, but it was better safe than sorry.

Hazel’s sunken living room looked like something out of Sunset magazine. Immediately Erin’s eyes were drawn to the huge windows facing the Bay. Though the trees were overgrown and the view was impeded, she could tell that in its prime, the panorama would not have been exceeded. As was typical of houses in the area, you entered on the top level and then stairs would have taken you to the rest of the living area below.

There were French doors that lead out to a massive deck held up by stilts buried deep into the hillside. Unlike the front and side windows that could be reached from ground level, these enormous windows were not covered in plywood, so light filtered through the large pine and eucalyptus trees surrounding the yard.

But even more than the spectacular view, Erin was struck by the beauty and what must have been incredible value of the pieces of art and collectibles around the room. From paintings on the walls to the antique furniture to what looked like priceless glass vases and rare carved miniatures, Hazel’s place was a showcase of art and beauty.

Erin was no expert, but her years of visiting museums with her parents had given her an eye for art. That, along with a general interest in the business end of art galleries, caused her to know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she was seeing something extraordinary.

“Oh, Scott,” she breathed. “How in the world . . .” She couldn’t even put into words what she was feeling as she surveyed the scene.

“Certainly is unexpected,” he agreed.

“Do you think they’re authentic?” Erin asked as she stepped into the room and carefully picked up a bronze figure of what looked like an Egyptian cat. “How in the world could Hazel and Bernie have afforded this stuff? There’s definitely something we don’t know.”

Heading in opposite directions, Erin walked toward the kitchen to the right of the living room, still marveling at the exquisite pieces she was seeing for the first time, and Scott started in the bedrooms. Nothing looked amiss in the kitchen. Everything was clean and tidy, no dishes left on the marble countertop. She pulled open the dishwasher and saw several plates and a few cups and utensils awaiting washing.

She turned to the refrigerator and saw what looked like normal fare, milk that had not yet reached it’s expiration date, some eggs, a loaf of bread. Jelly. Pretty normal stuff. She didn’t see anything out of the ordinary until she looked at the wall next to the stove. There, she saw a calendar from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. That in itself wasn’t so extraordinary. But the fact that is was from 1998 was.

Erin paused before the calendar. Her heart beating just a little faster. 1998 was the year Bryan and Bernie died. In fact, the calendar was still on April, the month of their death. There were a few things written on it: April 4, Madison’s birthday party, 3:00; April 8, PTA meeting, 7:00; April 11, T-ball practice 6:00. That was the fateful day. April 11th. A Saturday evening. Practice must have gone a little late because it was dark when the accident occurred.

How strange that after 20 years, Hazel had not taken down or even changed the calendar.

“Erin!” Scott called from the back hallway. “You’re gonna want to see this.”

Remembering the shock she had gotten the first time he had said those words, Erin headed down the hallway with a little trepidation. Scott was standing inside a bedroom on the right side of the hall. As Erin stepped in, she inhaled sharply. “It’s like stepping into a time machine,” she breathed. This had undoubtedly been Bryan’s room. And it looked as if nothing at all had been touched since he had died. Except that it was free of dust. Otherwise, the bed was crumpled and stuffed animals, a small yellow lion and big brown teddy bear, lay toppled over on their sides. Little boy tennis shoes were sitting beside the bed and the bottom drawer of the short wooden dresser was open with the sleeve of a T-shirt hanging out the front.

The bright yellow walls were covered in posters of what must have been Bryan’s favorite baseball players. Barry Bonds of the across-the-Bay Giants, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco—the Bash Brothers—of the hometown A’s, Ken Griffey Jr. of the Mariners. Erin slowly turned in a circle as she took it all in.

“What’s happening here, Scott?” Erin wondered. “It’s surreal. Did you find anything in the other bedrooms?”

Scott shook his head, “Everything seems to have been frozen in 1998. In the master bedroom, all Bernie’s stuff is still out as if he was going to come home and pick it up again. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“The calendar in the kitchen is turned to April, 1998,” Erin told him. “That’s the month they died.”

“Let’s head downstairs and see what’s going on down there,” Scott suggested, leading the way out of the little boy’s bedroom.

Erin followed with one last wistful look at the heart-wrenching tableau.

 

 

Chapter 16—Pray

Start the story here if you’re new to it. This is a completely free write with very little to no editing. Comments are encouraged!

Chapter 16

Pray

 

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.

 

 

Chapter 15—When

If you’d like to start from the beginning of the story, and really, that is the very best place to start, click here! This is an unedited free write that is a challenge for the month of October. Comments are encouraged!

Chapter 15

When

 

The rest of the week went quickly for Erin as she had to open the store both Thursday and Friday. Harry had mercy on her and gave her Saturdays and Sundays off. That was definitely a luxury in the restaurant business. But since her job was mostly administrative, she felt OK with that plan.

Friday night, she and Cory and Pepper and Scott (not a double date, mind you, Scott was just a friend!) went to the Grand Lake Theater in Downtown Oakland to see the newest Marvel movie. Pepper insisted. She was a Marvel addict. The others liked them well enough, but Pepper was a fanatic.

After the movie they decided to indulge and head to Fenton’s Creamery for the most amazing ice cream creations ever. It was a little more than a mile’s walk, so they decided to enjoy the October weather and make the trek on foot. Pepper’s chosen footwear of three-inch heels to accent her black and white polka-dotted cold-shoulder dress proved to be a challenge, so within a block she decided to just take them off and carry them.

The four friends enjoyed their companionable argument about whether the villain was really a villain or an anti-hero with Pepper feeling sorry for the circumstances he was thrown into and Scott insisting that he was a villain who just needed to be put away. They laughed and joked and punched each other in the shoulders as they made their way down Piedmont Ave., finally arriving at their destination about 30 minutes later.

Wanting to save room for the real stuff, Erin and Pepper both ordered the amazing crab sandwich while the men went the burger route: Mushroom Swiss for Scott and Western Bacon Cheeseburger for Cory. They said they needed their energy for their big pick-up basketball game in the morning. It was going to be the ice cream creations that were going to take a lot of decision making skills. In the end, the girls decided to be smart and split a Saddleback Brownie while Scott got the Black and White in honor of his patrol car, and Cory went with the Cookie Connection Sundae. Too bad they couldn’t just jump to dessert, but they were responsible adults after all.

As they were finishing up, scraping their containers of the very last vestiges of ice cream that they could, Scott suddenly said, “Oh, hey, Erin, I was taking to my captain about Hazel and he has given us permission to go ahead and enter her residence to check things out, since she’s still missing.”

“Whaa?!” Erin exclaimed, shocked and surprised by this sudden announcement. “Are you serious? When? Who?” Pepper and Cory made exclamations of surprise as well. All eyes were on Scott.

“Tomorrow morning, early as you want,” Scott replied, wiping his lips of the last of the sugary treat.

“I get to go?” Erin again exclaimed. This was getting better and better. Finally, they were making progress. At least she hoped they would be making progress. She felt sure the answer was in the house.

Scott chuckled. “Cap figures that since Hazel called you, you’re the closest thing to family that she’s got. Have you ever been in her house?”

Erin shook her head. “She never let anyone in her house. I’m not sure why, but judging by the outside, maybe she was ashamed or something.” She hadn’t really stopped to consider what she might be getting herself into. She’d be sure she brought some disposable gloves along.

The group got up from their table, a good bit heavier than when they had sat down, and started the hike back to their cars at the theater. Cory and Erin walked hand in hand, flanked by Pepper on the left and Scott on the right. Pepper wanted to make sure nobody mistook them for a couple. Erin determined to get her friend alone again and find out what was going on in that big stubborn brain of hers.

Scott and Cory settled on an 11 a.m. start time for their pick up game at the local high school, so Erin determined that 9:00 would work for Scott to pick her up to head to Hazel’s. They walked the rest of the way in companionable, over-stuffed silence. Sleep wasn’t going to come easily on these full bellies, but boy had it been worth it.