Saturday, July 30, 2016

Emily's Back, Part Three

I’m awake at 8:00, already on my laptop, amazed I got any sleep at all, although the pullout bed was reasonably firm and the Star Wars sheets and comforter were fresh and cool. I email everyone I can think of about Emily, but I’m also tracking down a theory about Terry Wolford. My mind works on two tracks. Sometimes three or four, depending on how many projects I’ve got going and how much caffeine I’ve had.
            The little girl—what’s her name?—bounces out of her bedroom in blue pajamas. “Are you playing a game?”
            “I’m working.” I turn my screen away so she doesn’t catch what I’m writing about.
            “Oh.” She sits on the floor, crossing her legs. “What’s your name?”
            I’m sure Crystal told her. But then I’m pretty sure she told me her daughter’s name too. “I’m Rachel. What’s your name?”
            “Gretchen.” She stands up. “Who was that lady in the back yard last night?’
            I swallow, not sure what to say, or how much Gretchen saw and heard. “Her name is Emily. But she’s not coming back.” I hope.
            “Dad got his gun.” She pointed a finger at the sliding door. “Ka-pow!”
            I shudder. “He only wants to protect you. Your mom and dad probably told you never to touch it. Right?”
            “Oh yeah.” She nods as if everyone in the world knows that. Then she puts a hand on my arm. “You’re different.”
            I sigh. “Yeah. Everyone says that.”

Two hours later the kids are watching cartoons in the other room while I munch a bagel.
            Crystal sits down next to me and swears under her breath. “I told myself I’d never let any kids of mine sit in front of the TV on a Sunday morning. It’s not like we go to church every week or anything, but what am I doing?”
            “They’re great kids.” And I don’t even like kids. “We talked about Harry Potter for an hour, and I only ever watched one of the movies. Although that kid who played Harry did grow up to be kind of hot, you know? I didn’t mention that.” I sip my coffee. “How’s Felix?”
            “Oh, he gets to sleep late on Sundays. Even after last night, it’s his one day.” She scoots her chair close to my computer. “Do you have anything?”
            “Well . . .” I look out through the sliding glass door. But it’s daylight, the sun streaming over the yard. “Not about Emily. Yet. But I might have something about your neighbor Terry Wolford.”
            She blinks. Wolford is far back on her list of priorities right now, but after a moment she leans in. “Like what?”
            I show her the site. “This.”
            Crystal screeches her chair back. “Oh, my god. Really?”
            “His wife died last year. It’s like that guy Renfield in Lord of the Flies. He ate flies, and then he—wait, that was Dracula.” I always get movies mixed up. “Anyway, I researched some of it one time . . .” I shiver, remembering Lulu Hess and her zombie son. “But one thing people try is animal sacrifice—draining the blood from a dying animal and using it to, uh, sort of jump-start a body. That’s what this looks like.”
            “So you think he’s trying to—”
            Gretchen runs in from the living room.  I push the screen down. “Mom, can we have some more waffles? Please?” She drops to her knees, giggling, and holds her hands up as if she’s praying. “Pleeease?”
            Crystal looks at me. I nod and stand up. “I’ve got to go make a phone call.”

Making an anonymous phone call is a lot harder than it used to be. Apparently pay phones used to be in every diner, 7-11, and corner drugstore, at least in the movies. I’ve got an app to hide my location, but I don’t trust it now. So I drive around until I spot a gas station with a phone next to the pumps.
            I need gas, but I park a block away to avoid the security cameras. I’ve got a big pair of sunglasses and a baseball cap from Crystal’s house. I slouch as I walk, trying to look a little drunk but mostly harmless until I reach the phone.
            How much does a pay phone cost these days? I just punch 911. A stern voice answers. “Emergency services. How can I help you?”
            “There’s a, a guy.” I try to pitch my voice higher than it usually goes. “His name’s Terry Wolford.” I stammer the address. “I think he’s got a dead body in his basement. I think it’s his wife. And a whole bunch of dead animals. I think he’s . . . I don’t know. But there are all these pets missing around the neighborhood, and I think there’s something going on.”
            “Are you in danger?”
            “No. I’m just scared. Sorry . . .”
            I drop the phone and walk away. Once I’m pretty sure I’m out of sight I push the sunglasses and hat into a garbage can.
            I’m walking slowly so I don’t attract attention. But I’m trying not to laugh. For this one moment I’m 19 again, running from the campus cops in my underwear.
            Okay, alcohol might have been involved that time. But I got away, and that’s all that counts, right?

Ten minutes later I’m back at Crystal’s house. Felix is awake, in sweats and a black T-shirt. The kids are arguing over a board game on the floor.
            Felix pours me some coffee. “She’s taking a shower. Everything okay?”
            I hope so. “Thanks.”
            He’s halfway through a waffle. “Can I ask you something?”           
            I stiffen. “Sure.”
            He leans forward, serious. “Where did ‘Crystal’ come from?”
            I stifle a laugh. That’s what he wants to hear? But I get it, kind of. Maybe he’s seeing a side of his wife that he’s never heard before. And he’s curious. But he doesn’t want to push too hard.
            I run my fingers through my hair. I need a shower too. “When we were at college, she collected them. All kinds. She was sure they’d help her connect with people. And the world. She had kind of . . .” I hesitate. “She could feel things, and she wasn’t always wrong. I’m not saying—I mean—”
            “You’re psychic.” Felix nods. “She told me.”
            “I can sense things.” It feels better saying it to a stranger. “Crystal—Christine? Chrissy—your wife—she had some of the same feelings. But I don’t know if she’s psychic or just good at picking up stuff. You know, body language, breathing, that sort of thing.”
            “Yeah.” He looks down at his waffle and then picks up a fork. “She can sure read me. Good thing, too.” He grins.
            “What are you guys talking about?” Crystal emerges from a hallway in jeans and a long plaid shirt. “Did you . . .”
            I shrug. “I made a call.”
            Crystal leans down to kiss her husband’s neck. “Are you okay?”           
            He strokes her hand. “Any more waffles left?”

An hour later Crystal drives us a few blocks over to check out Wolford’s house.
            Two cop cars block the driveway, and an ambulance is parked at the curb. After twenty minutes, we see two ER workers roll a gurney through the front door, a black bag strapped inside. They draw up the wheels and slide it into the ambulance.
            A white van drives up and parks as the ambulance pulls away. ANIMAL CONTROL. A man and a woman step out, bags slung over their shoulders. They talk briefly to a uniformed cop at the door. Then they go inside.
            “I guess they got him.” Crystal starts the minivan.
            “Yeah.” Bastard. I’m just sorry we didn’t see him get pulled away.
            But I’m sort of sad for him at the same time. Brian Wolford just wanted his wife back. That kind of thing never goes well, but I can understand the need. It makes you do strange stuff.
            Maybe he’ll get help. Maybe he’ll get better.
            But it’s not my problem now.
            The sun is high but starting to settle into the west as Crystal parks the minivan in her driveway. I jump out and follow her into the house. Part of me just wants to get into my Prius and drive back to Chicago and forget all this. But I know I can’t. Damn it.
            The little Scottie licks my feet as I walk through the front door, as if he’s decided I’m a friend now. Gretchen pulls him back by his collar. “No, Ferdinand! Bad dog!”
            “He’s fine.” I crouch down and scratch his neck. “You’re a good boy, Ferdinand. Just don’t—” I cough. Damn allergies. “Just take good care of them.”
            “Gretchen? Homework.” Crystal points toward the living room.
            “Oh-kay.” Gretchen groans.
            Crystal pulls another bottle of wine from her refrigerator. “I know, I know.” She sits down and pulls the cork. “What are we going to do about Emily?”
            The question I wanted to avoid. I try to think of a good way to answer. “I think we have to go down there. To the lake. And . . . talk to her.”
            Crystal turns in her chair to look into the kitchen. She’s tired, her face pale. “I know.” She doesn’t even pour herself a glass of wine—she just plugs the cork back in and rubs her face. “I don’t know how to tell Felix.”
            I can’t help her with that. “Well, I’ll go pack up.” My backpack’s in the guest room. I don’t really need to pack anything. I just want to give her some space.
            I hear them arguing in their bedroom. Felix has been nice so far, but right now he sounds like he wants to punch a wall. Or maybe shoot it. I bring my backpack out to the table and wait for them to finish, hoping I don’t end up in the middle of a huge domestic meltdown.
            Ben runs into the kitchen and opens the refrigerator for a squeezebox of grape juice. He turns around and looks at me, scared.
            “Hi.” I wave.
            He clutches the squeezebox with both hands. “Is my mom going away?”
            Oh god. I shake my head and force a smile. “No. I mean—maybe for a few hours. But I’ll bring her back. I promise.”
            He stares back as if he doesn’t believe me. Then he jabs the pointed straw into the box and takes a big swallow. “Okay!” He races back to the living room.
            Crystal emerges from the hallway. “Let’s go.”
            I stand up. “Is everything okay?”
            “No.” Her voice is blunt and tense. “But I have to go now. Or else I’m not going. All right?”
            “Mom!” It’s Gretchen, running from the living room. “I finished my homework! Can I have ice cream now?”
            “Ask your father.” Crystal leans down to kiss her head. “I’ll come back soon. Be good.”
            Gretchen squirms, then darts over to hug my legs as I hoist my backpack onto a shoulder. “Good-bye!”
            I pat her head. “Uh, so long. It was nice seeing you.”
            “Come on.” Crystal opens the door. “It’s a long drive.”

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