By J Thomas Fussell
Chapter 10: Interviewing the Neighbors
The neighborhood of Silent Glade rose at a slight incline from the neighborhood sign up through a small valley between two low hills. Long driveways climbed steep yards – sometimes one hundred feet or more – to houses nestled between large trees just now regaining the bright green leaves of spring. A large sign at the entrance of the neighborhood surrounded by sprouting flowers named the community with flowing ornate lettering. A metal plaque near the bottom read, “Donated by Greg Canton.”
Nina and Del regarded the sign and marveled at the charming neighborhood. Nina loved this time of year: life springing back, the greening of the trees and yards, all the beautiful flowers. Del looked around at the new growth and felt a twinge of irritation. Spring meant allergies for him and the beginning of unending yard work. He grunted and turned to say as much to Nina who towered a few yards to the right and behind him. The view down the road in the direction of the turn off to Silent Glade Drive stopped him in his tracks.
“Bizarre,” Del said quietly. He stepped towards Nina, who was looking at an app of the neighborhood on her phone, and tapped her on the arm. He nodded towards the road out of the neighborhood. “Look back that direction, and then look up the hill again.”
Nina raised her eyebrows, but did as he asked. “Weird,” she agreed. “What do you think causes that?”
The land on either side of the road, starting about twenty feet or so past the sign, grew steadily browner. The further from Silent Glade one looked, the more the landscape still held the dull colors of winter. When she looked back up the hill towards the Silent Glade neighborhood, spring had already advanced significantly. It was as if Silent Glade had somehow skipped ahead an entire month.
Del shrugged, “Good soil, maybe. Not sure. Maybe that behind us is over-farmed. The neighborhood was probably built in a cleared forest with better dirt.”
Nina frowned, “Good soil?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I wouldn’t think soil could be that different, but what do I know.” He winked. “It’s pretty weird, right? Nature. What’re you going to do?”
He turned back to the task at hand, “Shall we start with number 001 over there?” He pointed to the left and up a winding drive to a house partially hidden among the trees. He looked at his phone where he had the details of each owner pulled up, “A Mr. and Mrs. Patterson and family.”
They started walking up the drive as Del read off a few details, “Mr. Gary Patterson owns Patterson Paint over in Franklin. Does great work based on his ratings. And for a very exclusive clientele, I might add. His wife owns a boutique in Cool Springs Mall…”
The Patterson Family in 001 lived in an odd house for the neighborhood. Not as odd as the old cottage at the top of the hill, but a stand-out among the others. All of the houses, save this one, were built on one of five patterns, although the duplicates were often mirror images. Among them the Patterson house was unique in both style and size. Significantly larger than all the others, it avoided being ostentatious by hiding at the top of the hill behind trees and was completely unseen from the road.
As they approached the door, a raucous barking greeted them. The door opened before they even knocked, and a black and white Cocker Spaniel raced out to bark and sniff. A tall man with a friendly face and short brown hair receding into a widow’s peak followed closely behind.
“Bobo, get back. He won’t bite. Bobo, leave the good people alone.”
Bobo barked once more and sat for just a moment before a squirrel garnered his wrath for daring to be in his yard, and he raced off to give chase.
Nina flipped out her badge and said, “Good afternoon. I’m Detective Nina Houle, and this is Detective Del Fuller. Do you have a few minutes? We would like to ask you and your wife a few questions. Is she home?”
“Sure,” Mr. Patterson said, and then called, “Angel,” over his shoulder. He smiled nervously at the two detectives and said, “Is everything alright? What’s going on?”
“Hey babe, what’s up?” Mrs. Patterson was drying her hands with a kitchen towel. She smiled at the two detectives and then looked back to her husband, her eyebrows raised in question.
“Mr. and Mrs. Patterson, are either of you aware of what happened yesterday at the round-about?”
“Only vaguely,” Mrs. Patterson said, “and please call me Angel. This is Gary.” She indicated her husband. “Kathy Blanchart, from a few houses up, called us yesterday evening. She said Beverly Hernandez had been attacked in the woods. We had taken the kids to see their grandmother and didn’t get home until this morning. How is she?”
“She’s being treated, but we aren’t at liberty to give further details. You would need to contact the family. That incident is only one of the reasons we’re here. How well do you know the Eastman’s?”
“Tom and Amy? Reasonably well, I guess,” Gary said, “I mean, we didn’t run in the same circles, but we chatted several times a year at our neighborhood association parties. What do they have to do with this?”
“And Larissa babysat Boston and Sierra, our children, a few times. She’s a sweet girl,” added Angel.
“As I said, this is a separate incident. Again, unfortunately I can’t go into details, but if you see Mr. Eastman would you give us a call?”
Angel looked at Gary and then to Del and Nina. She sighed, and started to say something when Gary lightly touched her shoulder. Angel lowered her eyes. When she looked back up, tears welled in her eyes, but her resolute expression said she had more to say. “He hit her again, didn’t he?” and then to her husband, “I told you he was hitting her.”
“We don’t know he was hitting her, honey.”
“Whatever, Gary.” She turned her attention back to the detectives who had not responded to her question. When she realized they were not going to answer, she continued, “A couple of months ago, Amy brought Larissa over to babysit. She was wearing a long sleeve, loose-fitting blouse. Bobo pounced on them both when they came through the door. You saw how he gets when there’s someone at the door. For some reason, when he jumped at Amy, he nipped at one of her sleeves. The sleeve got hung on his teeth, and when he came back down, her sleeve separated at the shoulder. Her upper arm was covered in bruises. One of which was distinctively fist shaped.” She looked at her husband as if daring him to say anything.
“You don’t know that, honey. You barely saw it before she pulled the sleeve back up,” Gary protested.
“I know what I saw,” she snapped. She rolled her eyes back to the detectives and said, “Who pulls a torn sleeve back up. Nobody, that’s who.”
“What did Mrs. Eastman say happened?” Del asked, unperturbed by their squabble.
“Oh, the usual stuff women say, at least when they’re on TV. I fell down the steps or some such drivel. I don’t remember exactly. I just know I didn’t buy it.”
“Well, thank you kindly for your time. If you do see Mr. Eastman, please contact us as soon as possible. Okay?” Del said.
“Is he in some kind of trouble?” Gary asked.
“Of course he’s in trouble, Gary, he hits his wife.” Angle said. The look in her eye said Gary had not heard the end of this.
“He’s needed for questions,” Nina answered, handing Gary Patterson her card. “We’ll be in touch if we have more for you.
The first house on the right actually came after the second house on the left. So, they went to 003 before 002. The two men who lived in 003 had not seen or heard anything. Fred Stanton, a retired warehouse foreman, lived with his son Leroy Stanton, and although both men stayed home ninety percent of the time, they rarely left and never intentionally interacted with any of their neighbors.
Leroy Stanton met them at the door. He was big man in his forties and wore a Pokémon shirt several sizes too small covered in various stains. The shirt bunched up at the top of his stomach and exposed a large ring of his midsection. He scratched at his belly absent mindedly as he answered the door. The only thing he said was directed at Nina, but not to Nina. He looked at her from the ground up, his eyes wide and appreciative. A sneer lifted the left side of his mouth, and he said, “Damn! You are one big bitch.”
Nina rolled her eyes to Del, who was looking at her over his glasses. A wry smile tilted the side of his mouth. She sighed, flipped out her badge, and turned back to the man at the door.
Leroy turned several shades of red and closed the door in their faces without saying another thing.
Nina said, “Not. One. Word.”
Del simply held up his hands in submission.
When Nina knocked again, Fred Stanton answered the door in a wheelchair. The sixty-year-old had injured his spine in a car wreck in 1982, leaving his legs paralyzed. The sound of his voice spoke to the vast number of cigarettes he smoked daily.
“What is it? You got the boy worked up, and now… Damn.” He looked up at Nina. “Well,” he grunted, “To be fair, you are pretty big.” He leaned over his shoulder and hollered, “You were right boy. Now calm down, and go back to your game.” He looked up at the two detectives with one eyed closed against the light behind them. “Please excuse Leroy. He’s touched in the head, a bit of an idiot if you know what I mean.”
Del wasn’t sure he did. Did Mr. Stanton mean that Leroy was mentally challenged in some way or simply a fool? It was irrelevant, so he said, “Yes, sir. We have a couple of questions for you concerning the incident at the top of the hill yesterday. Do you have a moment?”
“Don’t need a moment. I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
Fred Stanton was not lying. He had not known about the incident until the detectives spoke of it. He didn’t even know where the Eastman’s lived when asked about that issue.
“Would you recognize him if you saw him?” Nina asked.
“Yeah, I’ve seen him before, ornery looking fellow. I think he sold cars, or fixed cars, or some such.”
“Would you call us if you or your son were to spot him?” Nina handed him her card as she spoke.
“Leroy doesn’t know anybody, but I’ll keep an eye out. Is that all? I got a show to watch.” Fred Stanton said, clearly finished with this interview.
Chase and Ginger-Lynn Debrow called the house at 002 home. They knew as little as the Stanton’s. The young couple had only been in the neighborhood for six months, moving in after long term residents Matthew and Natalie Goddard left for California in the middle of last year. They had had time to meet several of the neighbors, but they did not know any of them well. Their sparsely furnished house and older cars led Del to think they might be house poor. According to the app on his phone, Matthew worked as a freelance artist and Natalie ran an online distributer of body oils. This was not a cheap neighborhood. Del wondered if Body Oils were a more lucrative market than he thought.
Ginger-Lynn had been home yesterday and had seen the ambulance, but had heard nothing of what was going on. Unlike the Patterson family, perhaps they had not been in the neighborhood long enough to merit a call from Mrs. Blanchart, nor did they feel close enough to any of the neighbors to ask questions without feeling nosy. They had last seen Tom Eastman several days ago in his own front yard when they had gone for a walk to the round-about.
Barry and Ethel Thompson lived in 004. Neither were at home today. Fortunately, both Barry and Ethel had been in the Lapin’s yard when the police and ambulances arrived yesterday and had already given statements. Del made a note to call them later to discuss Tom Eastman.
The young Asian lady who answered the door at 005 wore yoga pants and a spandex top. Her dark hair was pulled back in a pony-tail. Fresh sweat covered her face and ran in rivulets down from her hairline. She dabbed at her face with a towel. When she smiled, Del suddenly recognized her. Her picture had been on the “Disgusting” side of Tom Eastman’s board. At his age, he knew everyone was beautiful in their own way, but even by the strictest of standards this young woman would not have been considered disgusting. Maybe they didn’t understand some element of Tom’s psyche, perhaps he was also a racist? Or perhaps, it had nothing at all to do with how any of the women truly appeared? He would have to talk with the forensic guys.
“Detective Nina Houle and Detective Del Fuller,” Nina said holding out her wallet.
“Oh shit,” the young women said and suddenly looked fascinated. “You guys are here because of the attack on Bev, aren’t you?”
“Yes, do you live alone Ms…?”
“Mrs. Cindi Wong,” she corrected, “and no, I’m married. Tara’s at work, though. Do you need to speak to her as well?”
“Yes, but not right now. We can catch her later,” Nina felt all of her size next to the diminutive young Asian lady, not to mention she was old enough to be the girl’s mother. What she wouldn’t give to feel twenty again. She envied those who could work-out to the level of the sweaty lady in front of her and not have any regrets. Nina knew she would hurt for a week after one day of heavy aerobics, if her knees didn’t give out in the process. She could walk to the ends of the Earth, but running and aerobics were not her cup of tea.
Del said, “How well did you know the Eastman’s?”
“Not much. The man acted like a total dick whenever he saw Tara and me out at the block parties or in town. So no, we didn’t talk much. His wife seemed sweet though, um, don’t recall her name.”
“Amy,” Del prompted.
“That’s right. But we didn’t talk much with her either, except in passing. Tara may have known her better. She’s lived here longer than me. We were married only two years ago, next month.”
Del’s phone buzzed in his pocket. He didn’t recognize the number, but he hit the button anyway and said, “Detective Fuller here.” He listened intently for a second and then said, “On our way.”
“We’re needed elsewhere, Detective Houle.” He smiled at Cindi and said, “Thanks for your time, ma’am. If we need anything else, we’ll contact you. And Ms. Wong, if you see Tom Eastman, please give us a call. He’s needed for questioning.” He handed her a card.
“Oooo,” she cooed, “Did he do it? What’d he do?”
Her eagerness for details seemed ghoulish. It always left a bad taste in Del’s mouth when someone acted like a terrible crime had been committed for their entertainment. He said, “He’s needed for questions. Good day, Ma’am.”
Back at the Eastman house, Nina and Del moved carefully through the wreckage of the living room, passed the forensics staff, up the stairs, and back to Tom’s discipline room. The locked closet door now stood open. Painted on the back wall of the closet was a crude representation of the Silent Glade neighborhood. Each house had a small hook screwed into the wall above it, and hanging from each and every hook was a key. They would have to check to be sure of course, but Del knew it in his gut. Tom Eastman had at least one key to every house on the block.
Chapter 11: The Detectives Meet Mary Sue
After the terrifying discovery of keys, Nina decided they would need to start over with the neighbors. Each would need to be informed of their discovery so they could take precautions. Tom Eastman was still only a suspect, but the fact that he had a key for every house in the neighborhood and was still at-large did not bode well for anyone involved.
“Well, where should we start?” Del asked after she informed him of the plan, and then quickly suggested, “Perhaps, we should start here at the top of the neighborhood, since we’re already here, I mean. No need to walk all the way back down there and then back up. Seems like a waste of good effort.”
Nina smiled. Del hadn’t passed his physical yet this year. He was putting it off like he usually did. His yearly ass-chewing by the chief of police was long overdue. Even though being fit is not required to keep a detective job, the chief thought that an officer of the law should be able to enforce it when necessary. Del always claimed he was strong like an ox. Really hard to knock down, but not very much use in a sprint. She doubted he could do one pushup, and smiled good-naturedly at the thought of him trying.
“Yes, Del. That sounds like a good idea. Should I have one of the uniforms put your car at the end of the street so you don’t have to walk back up later?” She asked, a playful gleam in her eye.
“Not a bad plan,” Del said, “I’m going to be hungry when we finish. Wouldn’t want to strain myself before a good meal.”
Nina tapped an officer and told him where to put their cars.
Del didn’t mind the banter or the playful ribbing. It was a good thing that helped ease the tension. This situation had just gone from bad to worse with the discovery in the closet. He wondered if Amy Eastman knew about the keys. She certainly knew about the photos. Had she been so upset that she had not been able to put two and two together? She certainly did not seem like the type who would lie to the police, but neither did most people who lied to the police.
“Why don’t we start with the Eastman’s neighbor in that small cottage through the trees? Then we can cross over to the Lapin’s house and start down the street. We can split up, if you want,” Nina suggested.
“Maybe, let’s talk with the lady in the cottage before we split up. I’m…” Del stopped and looked at Nina.
She knew that look. “What is it?”
“Let’s go look at that map Mr. Eastman drew on his closet wall again.”
When they were standing in front of the open closet door, Del said, “Do you notice anything off about that map?”
Nina studied if for a moment and then blinked, “Yeah, the little cottage isn’t represented. I wonder why?”
“No idea. Struck me as odd too. That’s why I wanted to make sure I saw it right.” He shrugged. “Maybe he likes the old lady or something.”
“You’ve seen who lives there?”
“Only in passing. She was at her fence earlier today, looking over here as if trying to sus what was going on. Looked to be in her late sixties or early seventies. A Mrs…” He pulled out his phone and punched at the screen for a few moments.
“I’m surprised she’s the only one,” Nina said. “We haven’t seen too many neighbors outside at all. Usually, there’s a crowd of looki-lous that have to be managed. Be thankful for small favors, I guess, but it does seem odd. Especially in a neighborhood this small where everyone knows everyone else.”
His brow furrowed. “Now that’s incredibly odd.”
“What’s that?” Nina said and moved to look over his shoulder.
“Not only is that house not on Mr. Eastman’s map, it’s not on our map, or Google‘s.”
“No way. How is that even possible?”
“No idea. Let’s go ask,” Del said. Then he smiled and added, “And almost everyone knows everyone,” Del’s mind ran to the father and son duo in 003. He looked up at Nina and said, mocking Leroy Stanton, “I mean, Damn! You are definitely one…”
Nina smiled, but said, “Don’t even go there, and he didn’t say definitely. And I better not hear about that at the office.”
“No, no, no,” Del said reassuringly, “I mean how would they find out? A man with a full belly can’t talk, you know. Say, a belly full of a big juicy steak.”
“I think that’s extortion.”
Del shrugged, “No need to get technical.”
The detectives made their way through the trees to the small cottage. Several flags followed the paths to and from the cottage that Tom Eastman had taken through the woods from where the forensics team had tracked Tom’s bloody footprints. They apparently lost all traces about fifteen feet from the white picket fence that surrounded the small cottage as there were no flags beyond that point. The detectives followed the fence to the front yard and over to the small gate that gave them entrance to the yard and house beyond.
A strange sense of unease fell over both detectives as they made their way down the short cobblestone path to the front door. Neither of them spoke of the sensation. It felt similar to a rain cloud suddenly darkening an otherwise sunny day. A day for which plans had already been made. Or maybe, that feeling one gets when watching a loved one do some foolish stunt that could get them killed. It was a gut feeling, and both detectives were senior enough to know better than to ignore it. The looked that passed between them said as much.
Del knocked on the door. The door opened, and just like that the feeling vanished. An elderly woman in her late sixties stood framed by the door and the light of a well-lit living room beyond. A gray shawl, ancient and worn, covered even grayer hair. Dark intelligent eyes peered at them from a kind, wizened face.
“Yes?” Mary Sue asked, a hint of irritation in her voice. She was wary but not afraid. These two were outsiders and law enforcement. Caution was warranted, even though it had been several generations since she had dealt with any real legal trouble. In these days of logic and science, few saw the fantastic, and even fewer believed it when they did. She could hide in plain sight as long as she was careful.
Del smiled and said, “We’re sorry to disturb you, Ma’am. I’m Detective Fuller, and this is Detective Houle. We would like to ask you a few questions, if you have a moment.”
“Ah, the detectives, of course. I have nothing but moments to spare these days, young man. I was wondering when you two would make your way to the neighbors. I’ve been watching, you know. Bad business that, bad business. Come in, please. We can talk inside. I need to sit these old bones down a spell. You two ’re lucky. You arrived at the end of my house cleaning, otherwise I would’ve put you two youngsters to work. Now, come on in and let old Mary Sue fix you some coffee. It won’t take but a minute. Then, we can sit and chat like civilized folks.”
“As you wish,” Nina answered, “but I’ll pass on the coffee. Acid reflux you know.”
“Ah. It’s a sour stomach that ails you,” Mary Sue nodded, “I see that now. You’re far too young, Miss, to have a sour stomach. Come, come, we’ll see what we can do about that, too.” She opened the door and stood back.
Nina looked at Del with raised eyebrows, shrugged, and said, “Yes, Ma’am,” then followed Mary Sue inside.
Del followed close behind and said, “I like my coffee black, please, with one lump of sugar, if you have it.”
When the door closed, it shut with a loud bang that echoed through the small house as if in a large empty cathedral. The sound startled Nina, and for just a moment, she saw the house how it truly existed, dark and cavernous with a strange mix of ancient and modern furnishings. Everything, decayed and worm-eaten, sat covered in dust and cobwebs. Before she could really focus and make sense of what she saw, the vision was gone. In its place, she saw a quaint living room as tidy as her grandmother used to keep hers. Dozens of small porcelain statues of tiny people with big bobble heads sat on the mantle over a small fire which heated a hanging kettle. Many pictures of women and men hung on the wall to the left. Several of the photos had to be as old as photography itself. Some were paintings as large as posters in ornate frames, and others were no bigger than a postage stamp, perhaps pulled from a locket or pocket watch. Beyond those, a shelf of beautiful ornate glass bottles of all colors filled with liquid or various colored dusts sat next to others which appeared empty at first glance, but might contain some sort of smoke or vapor. A tall, thin glass case containing bells of all shapes and sizes followed the bottle shelf. More collections lined the wall beyond the bells. The more she looked the more she saw. How could this tiny house hold all this stuff? Suddenly the kettle whistled loudly, and she jerked around to find Del staring at her with a worried look in his eyes.
Mary Sue watched with narrowed, suspicious eyes, and pressed the image of her home into Nina’s mind with much more force than she had expected to need. These two would tire her if she did not pay attention.
Del said, “You okay?”
Nina smiled wanly and said, “Yeah, it just… I don’t know. I…” She stopped and looked around. The room boasted less than twenty feet per side. A fireplace with a mantle warmed a worn green couch with yellow flowers. A few porcelain statues sat on the mantle, but only a few. “I need to sit down for just a second. Could I bother you for some water, Ma’am?”
“Of course, of course. Sit on the couch, my dear. I’ll be right back,” Mary Sue said. She walked to the fire and grabbed the kettle off the hook in the fire and disappeared into the kitchen.
As she rounded the corner, Del thought he heard her say, “Yes, the big one is strong, Sister. We’ll have to watch that one.” Did she live here alone? He had only seen this lady, but that meant nothing. Others could live here, too; although there only appeared to be one bedroom. He would check when she returned. Nina was his primary concern right now.
“What’s going on?” he asked. “Are you ok?”
“I don’t know. I think I may be getting sick or something. I feel a little disoriented,” Nina said.
“Do we need to leave? I can take one of Franklin’s finest with me.”
“I may step outside if the water doesn’t help. You stay and finish up. I think I’ll be alright, just give me a minute.”
“Here we go,” Mary Sue said as she stepped back into the room. “This’ll fix you right as rain, my dear. Drink up. Drink up.”
Nina took the proffered drink. The water glistened in the firelight, clear as morning dew. After two big swallows, she felt immediate relief, but there was no way she could have just been thirsty. She had been hallucinating for a moment. At minimum, Nina wanted a physical as soon as she got back today. In fact, she would leave after this interview if it happened again. A person who saw things that weren’t there did not need to be carrying a firearm. She drank the rest of the water and handed the glass back to Mary Sue.
Nina said, “Thank you, Ma’am, I feel much better.”
“Of course. And for you, Detective,” she handed Del a steaming mug of coffee.
“Thank you, Mrs…?” Del probed and took a sip of his coffee.
“I’m not a married woman, so Mary Sue will do just fine,” Mary Sue said and settled on a chair across a small coffee table from him.
“Yes ma’am, but we’ll need your last name as well,” Del prompted again. “Good coffee by the way.”
Mary Sue grinned and said, “Well, I haven’t had to use a surname in polite conversation in a long, long time. I’d almost forgotten I even had one. When you get to be my age, you’ve had quite a few names. Some are harder to recall than others. Your first name, well that one sticks. Doesn’t it, Del Fuller. Mine was…” She said something in a language that neither Nina or Del could process, and for good reason. The language she used was dead long before the tales of Gilgamesh were scratched into a clay tablet. Mary Sue sighed, “I haven’t used that one in ages, though. So many ages.” She trailed off.
Del glanced at Nina to get her take, but she wasn’t looking at him. She stared intently at Mary Sue. He scratched his head and said, “I’m sorry. Could you spell that for me?” He wondered if the old bird was senile. He wasn’t even sure what she had said was a word. He took another sip of his coffee. Cool enough to drink, he swallowed the rest in three big gulps.
“I’m sorry,” Mary Sue replied. “That was my mother tongue. I suppose Wyrds will do.”
“Thank you, Ms. Wyrds.”
“Mary Sue, please,” she corrected.
“Yes, Ma’am. Do you live here alone, Ms. – I mean Mary Sue?
“Oh Del, we are often alone. We get so few visitors,” she sighed, “and fewer still kind enough to come inside for a spell.”
That was the second time she had used his first name. Del didn’t remember telling her his name, but he must have. He wondered if she realized she slipped into the royal we when answering that last question? Ms. Wyrds did not appear exactly senile, but nor, Del thought, was she entirely competent.
“Now Ma’am, I know this might be rude. I reckon, if I had to guess, you’re probably close to my own mother’s age – were she still alive. God rest her soul. If this weren’t legal work, I wouldn’t even ask. So, if you don’t mind, how old are you?”
“Well aren’t you sweet, Del Fuller. I reckon I’m old as Moses,” she winked. “Now I don’t know how old your momma would be, but this time around I feel about 78. I assure you though, son, I often feel much, much older. Sometimes I feel as old as these hills, older, I bet. Old as dirt, to one as young as yourself. Ah?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Del said with a strained smile. “I mean, no, Ma’am. You look fit as a fiddle. I guessed you a decade younger.”
Mary Sue cackled softly and pointed across the table. “Don’t you flirt we me Del Fuller. No man lies to a woman less he be trying to get something from her. What is it you want from me, sir?”
Del cleared his throat. He needed to get back on topic. “Um… How well do you know Mr. and Mrs. Eastman?”
“Tom and Amy? Well, I’ve known Tom intimately since the very beginning. So, pretty well, I would say,” Mary Sue answered with a toothy grin.
What an interesting way to say that, Del thought. He continued, “And how long have you lived here, Ma’am?”
“It seems like only yesterday, but it’s so much longer. Wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Del said, “How long have you lived in this house? In years, if you can recall.”
“Oh, we were born in this house, and if I have my way, we will die here in this house. I really can’t tell you how long, though. We lost count.”
Del nodded. “That’s ok, Ma’am. Was your house here before Mr. Eastman’s?”
“Of course.” Mary Sue smiled.
Del noticed her brown and crooked teeth for the first time. It was all he could see. Twisted and crooked, stained from years of coffee and tea.
“Dear boy, my house has been here longer than any other. You could say, my house was the first house.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Del said, trying to drag his eyes away from those teeth. So many teeth. How had he not noticed them before? He couldn’t think. He tried to ask one more question. “Now, I, um, I want… I must… To ask anoth…”
In a blur, Mary Sue snapped her fingers in front of Del’s face and said, “Enough.” He fell silent, his word unfinished. She turned her attention to Nina. “And you, girl…”
“She is out, she is out, my Sister. You needn’t worry so much.” Mary Sue’s middle sister sounded like the rustle of dried leaves on pavement.
The crone knew better than to trust this aspect of herself, though. She was rash and prone to action before thought. She probed Nina’s mind. The large woman was open to her, but subconsciously fighting for control.
In a sultry voice that reminded one of pleasures unknown and dark secrets who’s sharing would bring utter ruin, Mary Sue’s seducer self said, “Yes. She drank the water and that makes her ours. Him too. Ooo, what should we do with them?”
“Calm yourselves. This one’s as strong as she is large, Sisters, but she’s ours, for now. And him too, of course.”
“Well, find out what he knows. Find out what he knows,” said her sister, the Fury, in a voice like the creaking of thick vines.
“Yes, Sister. Why are things so strange here? The Tom Eastman is much harder to control than expected,” the Seductress pouted. “He wants me, as all men do, but he is not mine. His heart is… still his own.”
“Well, if you cannot control your plaything, perhaps I can,” the Fury said in a voice like thunder rolling across the sky.
“I can control him. He’s just… a little unpredictable.”
Mary Sue the elder said, “Hush now, let me see what I can see.” She turned to Del and said, “What did you find in the Eastman house that has you two so worked up? Speak only truth now.”
“Yes, Ma’am. Only truth now. Keys, Ma’am. We found keys to every house in the neighborhood. Except your house, Ma’am. No keys to this house.”
“You see,” the Seductress cooed, “unpredictable.”
“Why did he have keys?” Mary Sue asked.
“Unknown, Ma’am. I can’t imagine his intentions ’re good.”
The Seductress spoke directly to Del, “But that’s not important. I want to know why, Del Fuller, why doesn’t Tom want me as you do?”
Del blinked and Mary Sue was no longer the wizened crone who had answered the door. Dark raven hair with sable streaks of gray slid in loose curls down her back. Beautiful brown eyes, aged to perfection. Laugh lines denoting a joyous life outlined full lips and a button nose. She could have been a youthful sixty or an outdoorsy forty-year-old. She was perfect and Del knew he had never seen a more beautiful woman in his life. She was everything his heart desired. Peace and love rested in her eyes. He could see the two of them lying together under a summer sky for the rest of eternity.
“You’re so beautiful,” Del whispered breathlessly, but he had to answer her truthfully. He had promised, “but… you’re not his type.”
“Oh poo!” Mary Sue said with a pout, scooting in closer and whispering, “I’m every man’s type.”
“Yes, Ma’am, but Tom Eastman only has eyes for one, Beverly Hernandez,” Del said. But even as he said it, Del felt that wasn’t exactly right, so he added, “I think.”
She leaned in, and Del closed his eyes expecting, no wanting, no needing a kiss from this beautiful woman. None came. He opened his eyes to see where his love had gone. The beautiful woman had vanished. The old woman he had met at the door loomed over him. The incongruity of the two scenes shook him, and for the briefest of moments, Mary Sue almost lost control of him. The image in front of him blurred, and for that second, Del saw something that would haunt his sleep for the rest of his days.
“What are you?” He whispered, eyes wide with fear, but leaning forward nonetheless.
But then, Mary Sue pushed him back. The strain of trying to control these two humans was more tiring than it should be. She would have to feed soon. Del settled back onto the couch; his face blank and thoughtless.
“That was close, Sisters. That was close.” Mary Sue said. “These two are strong. We’ll have to be very careful with them. Let us finish this. We need these two gone from our home. And, I fear we’ve caught a tiger by the tail with Tom Eastman, a ready-made catalyst. We may need to adjust our plans.”
“That one only has eyes for our eyes, Sister. Perhaps he is more mine than thine,” the Fury rattled like reeds in the wind.
“No. You mustn’t. I’m not done playing with him yet. He still has purpose,” the Seductress hissed.
“Enough!” The crone said. “Regardless, we’ll feed well soon, Sisters. We’ll feed well soon.” She turned her attention back to the detectives and said, “Thank you for telling us, Detective Fuller. You and Detective Houle have both done Silent Glade a great service.”
“I’ve done Silent Glade a great service,” Nina and Dell said in unison.
“You can go home now. The job is done. Tom Eastman will be caught soon enough. You are tired after warning so many people. You deserve to rest.”
“I can go home now,” the detectives said in unison.
“The job is done,” Dell added.
“Tom Eastman ’ll be caught soon enough,” said Nina.
After that things grew fuzzy for the two detectives. They both remembered asking for refills of their drinks. Both remembered a very pleasant conversation with an aged woman who was very kind, but might have been a little on the senile side. Fortunately for them, it was the last house they had to visit for the day. They were both thankful for that. What a day. At least they had been able to warn all the neighborhood before Mr. Eastman hurt anyone else.
Del was ready to go home, take a bath, and go to bed. All in all, it had been a good day. He would get back at Nina though. Having his car driven to the end of the street and parked by the neighborhood sign was a mean trick. At least it was downhill the whole way.