By Cindy and Walt
The “t” shirts were a good deal even if I wouldn’t get to wear them much before the cold hit. They might or might not be wearable under sweatshirts during the old winter months. Still it had been a good use of my time while I waited to leave for my appointment at the school.
When I arrived on campus I found the Community College’s reputation for being the redheaded step-child was well deserved. The Professor might have his classroom in the new Arts building, and online, but his office was in one of the 1940 brick classroom buildings from the county high school, whose campus had been donated to win the Foothills Community College for the area.
“J. Bradshaw please,” I asked.
“I’m Joan Bradshaw,” the young woman admitted.
“Oh then are you the charcoal and pastel drawing instructor?” I asked just a little skeptical.
“I am, and you must be Rose Seabold my 1 PM appointment?” she asked.
“Yes I am. I admit you are a bit younger than I expected,” I said.
“Well you are a bit older than I expected, so we are even,” the woman in her very early twenties said.
“I found your lesson interesting,” I said.
“Not interesting enough to practice them,” she said putting me on the defensive.
“I have to admit that is true,” I said in total agreement. “I can only say in my own defense that I have been living out of a suitcase in a motel for the last two months.”
“Frankly Miss Seabold, I have been expecting you to withdraw from the course,” Joan said. “I’m very glad you came to do it in person.”
“But that is not why I am here. I came to get my drawings and the critiques that go with them,” I replied.
“Miss Seabold after seeing you, I have to confess you would make a much better model than an artist,” Joan said.
“If that is supposed to be a compliment, you need to work on your people skills,” I said.
“Well, yes it was a compliment but also a way of telling you that you need to do a lot more work if you want to be a sketch artist. You have an eye for good composition, but you lack the technical skills to translate the composition to a piece of art. You need to do a lot more practice,” Professor Bradshaw said.
“Well that was pretty brutal,” I said with a nervous laugh.
“Could I ask you, if you have had breast enhancement?” she said.
“As a matter of fact I have,” I replied.
“Would it be possible for me to see them?” she asked.
“Not unless you buy me dinner first,” I said smiling.
“Nothing like that I assure you. I would like you to model for our figure study lab,” she said.
“What makes you think I would do that?” I asked.
“You obviously have an interest in art, and it would be a chance to get some first class drawings of yourself. We could also pay a hundred dollars a session,” she said.
“I’m really not good at keeping schedules. I am sorry but it did sound like fun,” I said smiling.
“I have one more offer. Let me draw you when it is convenient, and I will teach you how to use Leonardo,” Joan said seriously.
“And what is Leonardo?” I asked.
“Have you ever heard of Photoshop?” she asked.
“Of course,” I replied rather miffed that she thought I might be that stupid,
“Well Leonardo Is a portrait version of Photoshop type software. There is some special software and hardware that make it work. The school has the software and hardware. You can learn to use it. What you do after that is up to you,” she said.
“I have to ask you is the picture on your desk the family?” I asked.
“Yes my husband and my ten month old daughter,” she said.
“Then this is strictly a business transaction,” I said.
“Absolutely,” she said.
“You have a deal, if you can make arrangements for the tit for tat work,” I said. She didn’t get the humor at all.
“Now that we have settled that, could I see your body please?” she asked.
I lowered the forest green cargo pants, then removed the baggy sweatshirt with the cut off sleeves. Joan Bradshaw continued to watch. I figured what the hell in for a penny and all that, so I removed the bra and pushed my panties to the floor. She actually gasped.
“My god you will be the most beautiful woman I have ever painted,” she said.
“Well I would rather it not look like a photograph and that you not sell it for and advertising shit,” I said. “I had a bad relationship and I am hiding out.”
“Oh I can imagine. Sure we can make you look different,” Joan promised.
“One more thing,” I said.
“What?” she asked.
“I showed you mine, now you should me yours,” I said.
She looked confused when she said, “Are you saying what I think you are?”
“If you think I want to see your body, then yes I am,” I replied. “It’s not sexual but I want to see you before I let you draw me. You can think it over and when you decide call me.” I turned to leave but she called me back.
“One more thing,” how do I reach you?” she asked.
“You have my email but I can give you my cell number,” I suggested. I scribbled down the number of the current burn phone for Rose Seabold.
“Very well, I will call,” she said.
“I know,” I replied. I really was sure she would call when she was ready to paint. I had a couple of surprises from Joan Bradshaw. One was the fact that she had office hours on Saturday and the other that she was so fucking blunt with her critique. I left with the drawing files to peruse at my leisure. I was enrolled so I intended to continue taking the classes, so fuck her.
I had a hard time believing we had been talking over an hour when I left. I had to admit there was some small talk between the take off your clothes bits. I had learned that she was breast feeding the baby, which her working in the online classes department made easier. She would pump her breasts then put the milk in the refrigerator for the baby’s next meal.
She learned that I liked to draw portraits and hoped to do so before her rather rude critique. I also told her I had never married. I was pretty sure I mentioned that I much preferred men, but I had done it with a woman or two. That was just in the spirit of full disclosure. While on the road home I remembered her response. “That isn’t part of our agreement. I am happily married,” she had said. I had to admit I got no clear vibe from her.
I was home shortly after 2:30. I found a note on my door. It was from Carlos. I’m not sure I knew anyone else who left notes. Everyone sent text or email, maybe called on the cell but real hand written notes, nobody else did that ever.
The note read. “Welcome back Senorita Rose. I will be home tonight you can reach me there or I can come by on Monday Morning. Just let me know which would be better. Carlos.
It was sweet that much was for sure. I really just wanted to talk to him about planting a tree where the front part of the parking lot had been. I also considered a brick circular drive there. I needed his advice since I was so close to the road. What I really wanted was to see what he knew, if anything, about Rachael.
I went into the house and opened the computer to our ’email that never was’. I found a draft from Morris. She wanted to know why I felt this Rachael Rankin woman’s disappearance might be trouble for us. I sent back the message explaining it all. She had better come through or I was going to start making waves. I had convinced myself, with no evidence at all, that it was imperative I get her story.
I ended the draft email with this note. You need to trust me on this, I have trusted you this whole time, now you need to trust me.
It was early evening when I called Carlos. I spoke first to his wife, she didn’t seemed threatened at all by my call. “Hello is Carlos home yet. He left a note on my door. It said to call him tonight,” I stated.
“Yes, he is here just a moment,” she said cheerfully.
“Senorita Rose, it is good you have returned to your Country Store home,” he said.
“Thanks, I wanted to know what I owed you for the work you did since our last settlement,” I suggested.
“The amount is just over one hundred dollars,” he said.
“Good, stop by tomorrow and pick it up. We also need to discuss some changes I wish to make to the driveway,” I said.
“Very well, how about after church,” he suggested.
“Sure bring your wife and kids. It won’t take a minute,” I informed him. “Better still I owe your family a meal. How about I meet you at a restaurant at the plaza for lunch after church. We can discuss the driveway there.”
“You do not need to do this Senorita,” Carlos said.
“I know that, it was my idea remember? If I didn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t have offered. So do your kids like Pizza?” I asked.
“All kids like Pizza,” he informed me.
“Since I haven’t spent much time around kids, I’ll have to take your word for it. So tomorrow around noon at the Pizza Buffet?” I suggested.
“It will be about 12:30 getting the kids collected after church is not always easy,” he said with a laugh.
“Fair enough,” I said in agreement. I expected it would be more like 1 PM but I said nothing. After all Carlos had several kids.
I made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which I was tempted to toast in the counter top oven but changed my mind remembering what a mess it made when I grilled it on my George Foreman grill.
I found an unopened bag of potato chips which had been included with some take out sandwich God alone knew how long ago. I opened it and found them to not be too awfully stale. They broke even and they did crunch as they would have if new.
I sat at the computer searching for anything to calm me down. Moving back to Country Store had its stresses. It was anything but the ideal lifestyle. Still I felt alive and connected here more than anywhere I had ever lived. Where else could I reinvent myself every day. Not just on the command of Controller but just because I didn’t like what I had done. Just like the driveway of the Country Store home. I hadn’t liked the drive so I was going to have it changed just because I fucking could.
I decided that the Internet was the greatest sex toy ever invented. I could produce my own porn just by finding a willing costar and using my imagination. The intensity of the experience was limited only by my partner’s imagination.
So on my first night back in Farmer’s Grove I didn’t go visit Jeremy and Alice who I was sure were having a swinger’s party, I went to the Internet to exercise my imagination. What I found was someone pretending to be a teenaged boy. The person on the other end of the fantasy was much too polished to be young.
It was like a Bruce Willis movie. The viewer had to will herself to believe that any one human being could do all those things. I knew it was bullshit but I wanted to believe it, at least for the length of the mental movie.
When I began to actively masturbate it took only a few short minutes until I was shaking and losing touch with reality. When the orgasm ended I was calm but far too exhausted to do anything but go to bed. I could have worked through it but I didn’t need to do that. I just went up to my loft and fell gratefully into the bed.
At 6:30 AM, I was sitting in the farthermost booth from the door at the Hardee’s Restaurant in the plaza. I did love their biscuits but I missed Helen’s breakfast. I was determined that I would find Rachael or at least what had happened to her, so that I could return to Helen’s for breakfast. Even though the extra five miles round trip to the plaza was good for me I was sure, I missed the breakfast atmosphere there. It was almost like having a family. Each of the patrons knew most of the others so there was always a conversation to be dragged into.
Upon my return to Country Store, I did my shower ritual then sat on my deck in the cool morning air drinking coffee for the next couple of hours. Once I allowed the sun to rise high in the sky, I knew it was time to consider what one wore to a family Sunday lunch with friends. In my case it was a pair of tailored slacks and a short sleeve knit blouse. The slacks were khaki and the top was black. I could have been a fast food employee. The look suited my mood. I was going to try to get information from a man who might not want to give it to me. I should be dressed like a common worker, not a boss lady.
When Carlos and his family entered the Pizza Buffet they almost doubled the size of the crowd. The place had a steady twenty customers all afternoon it seemed. We were all seated and the small talk was driving me crazy.
“So what do you think would make a better driveway configuration for Country Store?” I asked Carlos. “I don’t like the flow of the current driveway, but I’m not sure about digging up the sod we put down to make a circular drive.”
“Well you know it would cost a lot of money and accomplish nothing. Now that Molly has the brush cleared away we could take down a couple of trees to make a parking lot for more than one car behind the building. They would be hidden from the road. I think you would like that better. You could park there, then enter the house through the rear doorway we cut in the old shop area”
“You mean my living room?” I asked with a laugh.
“Yes,” Carlos said. I can have a friend come do the grading and concrete work next time you go out of town so there will be no inconvenience,” Carlos suggested.
“That sounds like a plan. Can you get him to give me a price for the work?” I asked.
“Yes, since there is no hurry I can take care of it,” he insisted.
“Good,” I said. Then I let the conversation be hijacked by Carlos’s wife and kids.
I waited for a lull in the conversation then asked, “Did you know the waitress at Helen’s restaurant?” He knew that I knew he did. We had met there for planning sessions when I was barely able to live in the Country Store.
“Sure, I did know her but not well,” he answered.
“Well since you are around town more than me, have you heard where she is now? I have some things of hers I would like to return,” I said. I had worked out the most reasonable lie in advance so as not to upset his wife.
“I think I heard she left town suddenly. Something to do with work she did for Marcus Black. He is a local thug,” Carlos informed me. No doubt expecting me to drop it.
“Oh okay, well maybe Marcus Black can tell me where to send her things. How do I find him?” I asked.
“He and his crew hang out in a beer joint in Roaring Gap. It’s called ‘The Green Door Game Room’. It on the Roaring Gap Road just before you get into town,” he said.
“I’ll try to get by there one day,” I said. If nothing else I had another name for the Controller to check out. It was what I came to do. I planned to stay awhile longer then go home. While I waited I noticed Carlos’ older son looking at me with interest. He was probably the age my mystery Internet lover from the night before had pretended to be. Coming so soon after the pretend sex he could be dangerous, l thought.
“Senorita Rose, I was wondering if you would like to have your car washed?” the young man asked.
That startled me a little. I had to do some fast thinking. “Your name is Jose?” I asked.
“Yes it is Senorita Rose,” he confirmed with a smile. I probably was the only one who noticed that he was impressed that I knew his name.
“Jose,” I said nodding. “I really don’t want to have the truck washed but every now and again I need someone to help me move furniture or pick up something I have bought. If you would like I could give you a call.”
“Yes I would like that very much,” he said. “Also father has told me you like to ride your bicycle. If you would like I could ride with you to be sure you are safe.”
I looked at Carlos who knew his son was smitten. “Jose I ride at five or six in the morning. I expect that is a little early for you. Especially now that school has started but thanks for the offer.” It was obvious to everyone, other than Jose of course, that I was letting him down easy.
“I would very much like to help you. Everyone in my family works and I would work hard like my dad,” he said very sincerely. He was trying to save face.
“I wish I had known you when I bought my living room furniture. I most likely could have saved a ton at one of those warehouse places that doesn’t deliver. Next time I will know who to call,” I said. Everyone seemed to be happy with those answers.
After lunch I went home to write emails that never got sent. I again explained why I needed to pursue the matter of Rachael Rankin quickly.
Within two hours I had Marcus Black’s rap sheet. He was hardly a criminal mastermind. What he was seemed to be a criminal opportunist. Morris had called in a favor and spoke to a detective assigned to the area which covered Roaring Gap as well as other small mountain communities.
His evaluation of Marcus Black was that he put feelers out for ideas for criminal jobs. Morris felt it was possible that Rachael had helped him with a job. He thought that Rachael might have made a score and took off to avoid her parole officer.
I knew that the timing was too big a coincidence. Rachael had most likely shined a spotlight on me or Jeremy and Alice. I quickly asked if there had been a criminal report filed by Jeremy or Alice. The answer was almost instant. It was damn good service for a Sunday afternoon.
I hated it but the only way to further the investigation was to go ask Marcus Black what happened to Rachael. Something sure as hell did. The possibilities were endless. Everything from she needed a change to someone had her killed and hid the body. The only way to move along to the end game was to follow Rachael’s movements. So Marcus Black had to be my next move.
“You are a fucking Idiot,” Liam said. “You are not an operative. You are an actress and a thief not a cop or a killer.”
“I’m not planning to be a cop or a killer. I’m going to go pretend to be a slut and steal Marcus Black’s computer. There maybe something on it to lead me to Rachael.”
“He is a nickel and dime thug, he probably won’t even have a computer,” Liam said.
“Then he will have a smart phone. He is going to have something with which to communicate,” I said.
“You don’t have anything to hijack a smart phone,” Liam said. “But I bet someone at Church Camp can get you something.”
“Yeah and turn Morris on to why I want it, no thanks,” I admitted.
“Morris and the state pay Church Camp a lot of money, but they have no use for each other. Drive out there this evening and talk to the Commandant,” Liam said.
“Are you sure he won’t sell me to Morris?” I asked.
“Even if he does, all he will do is stop you. You are too valuable an asset to cancel for trying to protect yourself. You could always trust Morris to investigate this thing,” Liam said.
“You are the one who tells me not to trust her,” I said.
“Yes but you never listen to me,” he said in a whinny voice.
“Well I have nothing to lose if they don’t report me, so I’m going to give it a try. Let me fix some coffee for the road and I’ll drive up there when I’m finished, I said.
“Be careful, they don’t like surprises,” he said.
It took me two hours of driving deeper into the mountains to get to the front gate of the Church Camp. I was surprised there was no guard on the gate and no fence around the place. From Liam I knew better than to doubt that bad shit could happen if I acted aggressively. That being the case I spoke quietly into the speaker.
“Hello, I need to speak with the Commandant,” I said. I wasn’t positive the gate was being monitored since no one challenged me.
After a couple of minutes the speaker came to life. “Leave your truck and walk around the gate, then get back on the road and walk to camp. Please do exactly as told and do it right now. There are some nasty surprises if you don’t,” the man’s voice informed me.
I left my keys in the truck and walked off the road and around the gate. I figured they had turned off the firing circuit to whatever nasty shit they had planted around the gate. Once I was back on the road I began the long walk that I remembered from my drive into the camp almost a year previously. I sure wished I had the bike.
After about a half hour walking I was met by a four wheeler. “Miss Seabold you need to climb on the back. This rode ends a few yards ahead,” The very fit driver said.
“Okay, I said swinging my leg over the frame of the machine. I was forced to hug him to stay secure, which I didn’t mind at all. I noted right away that he wore no cologne. I assumed that it was the sign of a professional that no one would smell him as he approached. That and all the other security reminded me that I was back in Church Camp. I took a deep breath when I realized where I was. The breath came out in one long sigh as I relaxed maybe for the first time since I last left Church Camp.
When the four wheeler came to a stop in the parking lot of a residential cabin, I looked to the driver for answers. “Go on in and make yourself at home, The boss will be down in a while,” the young man said.