“Wake up, pal, we got a situation . . . Hey, I’m talkin’ here. Maybe she makes it, maybe she don’t. I’m sayin’ you better move it!”
The voice came out of the past. The words cut into the here-and-now of the Connecticut night.
Left with just the dial tone, Jed Cooper hung up, got off the cot and tried to get his bearings. Though he’d been house-sitting this junk trailer for a while, he still had to grope around to find the pull cord for the lights. He waited a few seconds more and punched in the unlisted number of the “she” the guy must’ve been talking about.
It was busy.
He reached for his jeans, work boots and a pullover sweater, got dressed and called her number again. No luck. He hit redial three more times and gave up.
Scuffing past the frayed wires hanging across the water-stained ceiling, banging into the space heaters as he jerked open the little frig, he took a few swigs of bottled water and thought it over. There was no hope of getting a bead on who the street-wise caller was. And there was still only one person who could possibly need him at this hour and was close by. Plus, chances were the guy had disconnected her phone.
Jed straggled out into the March dampness, skirted around the rusty snow plow blade and hurried up the path. He slid behind the wheel of the Chevy pickup, cranked the old motor, gave it hardly any time to idle and took off onto Green Hill Road.
Off the beaten path in the Litchfield Hills there were no street lights. Under the misty cloud cover, his brights only made matters worse. And way out here his cell phone was useless.
Taking the dips and rises as best he could, he began to have second thoughts. Granted the guy had to be talking about Miss Julie. Putting aside what in God’s name he was doing at her place, what if he was laying in wait? And even if he’d split, what were the repercussions? Could Jed just tear into a single woman’s hidden drive this late at night? And then what? Check things out, or call up to her window to see if she was okay? Or, hoping no one had spotted him, ring her bell? Suppose he got no answer?
Besides, there were too many incidents already on his record. One more, and he’d had it.
But then again, she’d gotten so skittish today she didn’t even let him finish his chores. Told him to put down the chainsaw and completely changed her mind about clearing the drive. “If I can see the road, someone can see me,” she said. “I want you to go up to the attic and put a latch on the crawl space.”
But why? What was that all about? She didn’t say, wouldn’t tell him.
His pondering tapered off as he dealt with the pitted lane. Straining his eyes, he took an immediate left onto Nonnewaug Road coursing past the stands of maples.
For a second he caught a glimpse of what could’ve been a Lincoln parked by the side of the road. Not just any Lincoln though–a Continental, the vintage one with the single blade fenders and squared-off hood. It was another flickering memory out of the past but had no bearing right now. Or did it?
Focusing hard, keeping his mind on what he was doing, he made a sharp right. Gearing down, he spun his wheels navigating the muddy patches, shot forward as he cleared, eased onto the gravel, jerked the hand brake and killed the motor. He got out onto the drive at the side of the weathered cape, glanced up and spotted a flitting shadow under the gabled window. He’d wired-in motion detecting flood lights for her that should’ve lit up the area but nothing snapped on.
He thought of calling out. He thought of rushing over to the road to see if the Lincoln was still parked there partially hidden under the trees. He thought of putting this whole thing down to some kind of hoax.
Just as he was about to honk the horn and damn well do something, he heard the cellar door slam shut.
Yelling out, Jed reflexively ran around to the back in time to see a burly shape make for the tree line. Which was a stupid move, slogging through underbrush and waist-high weeds and briars. Plus, whoever it was had a hitch in his stride and couldn’t possibly know where he was or what he was doing.
Jed took off after him. But, despite everything, the guy kept changing direction. Like a gimpy street kid ducking down a dark alley and then darting here and there through the traffic. Like Jed himself used to do way back then.
Rushing straight ahead, Jed tripped over a tangle of bittersweet roots, warded off the sprays of honeysuckle lashing across his face and kept going until it finally dawned on him. Even if he caught up, the guy outweighed him and could take him out with a few punches. He was obviously leading Jed on, away from the house and it didn’t much matter in which direction.
Jed turned around and headed back for the cellar. Banging into things, he brushed past the mess the guy had made, located the breaker panel, flipped the switches and climbed the stairs as the lights came back on. He called her name as he passed the kitchen and cut around the dining room but there was no answer.
© 2015 Shelly Frome