With her mood tending toward impatience, Emily thought that visiting an area where skunks are likely to show up was not a good idea. Instead she got a broom from the garage and began to sweep in front of the house. The heavy rains had knocked a lot of leaves off the neighbor's eucalyptus tree, and the wind had carried more than a few of them to rest and stick on her porch. She wanted to get the leaves off the cement of the porch before they stained it with their outlines.
She carried her cell phone with her in case the agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigations called her, like a responsible little person. After all, it was her job to take all the calls and report the results to her husband, wasn't it? Her irritation began to rise again. Just like he kept me in touch with what he was doing when he bought the damned dwarves in the first place? "I'm thinking about buying some collector's artwork as an investment, Emily. What do you think, should I do it?" Right, as if that conversation ever existed in the known world. He hadn't told her a thing about it until the deal was done. No matter that PayPal had deducted forty thousand dollars of credit from their credit account which was paid from their joint bank account (joint bank account, can we explore the word "joint?") she hadn't heard about the idea, the details, the cost, or the seller until after it was all over and the only ones left standing were the damn Seven Schroeder Dwarves.
He had been so sure that they would double in value within five years. In fact he had contacted an art dealer in San Francisco and inquired about resale of the set before they even arrived. He didn't want to pay to have them examined, or fly up to Seattle to watch as they were checked over, oh, no, he was so damned sure and secretive and determined to squeeze every ever last booger penny out of a quarter and George Washington's nose ... Now here it was less than three years later and as a set, the dwarves were worthless. Maybe I should break them all and see if any of them are real.
The porch was swept clean, and nothing marred its perfect cement from front to back or side to side. Not a twig or seed to be seen, only the stiff palmyra mat with the word "Welcome" trimmed into its surface. "Welcome," said Emily aloud. "Welcome to what?" She went into the house and shut the door. "Welcome to be called 'fucking stupid?' Welcome to be left in the dark about what the man of the house is doing?" Her voice echoed around the otherwise empty house, sounding strange.
When did Emily ever utter a sound when she was home and her husband wasn't there? Her throat was as closed to the air as -- she shook her head to clear it, slightly disgusted that her thought of her soundless throat had made her think of her childless body. She stood by the downstairs hall, holding the broom, silent again, the anger gone. She took a deep breath and let it out again. Deliberately she turned her mind from the thought. Amethysts. Water lilies. L'Arc de Triomphe. The ham in the refrigerator. The new computer. The fog in the morning. Frank and Stein in his box in the garage. She got herself moving again, taking the broom back out to the garage.
She opened the top of the box. "Hi, Frank. How are you doing today? Are you ready to be the subject of an FBI investigation? Be impounded as evidence? You've been hanging out with bad company, Frank. Turned your plaster snow white -- get it? Snow White? I know, Frank, I just crack you up, don't I?"
I should try talking to inanimate objects more often. The phone began ringing inside the house and Emily went back into the warmer environment while the call forwarded to her cell phone. "Hello, Fatzer residence."
"Emily, I'm going to be a little bit late tonight. I've got an appointment to get my hair trimmed at five fifteen, so I won't be home for about half an hour after that, maybe closer to six." Mark's voice sounded upbeat and eager.
"Okay, but then do you really want to eat ham and sweet potatoes that late? You know that you have a precise internal clock about how late you can eat a heavy meal." After twenty-eight years of marriage, I know your digestive habits as well as my own, why wasn't that in the wedding vows? "I can do them tomorrow just as well."
"Yeah, you're probably right. Nothing with onions, though. What about a pork chop and some salad?"
That would make the rest of the afternoon so easy. "Sounds like a deal. Mark, I talked to the police this morning. They're referring the case to the FBI."
"God, just unbelievable. When will they start the investigation?"
"I don't know. The police said the agent will call to set up an appointment with us."
"I hope they can find that old bitch and wring every last dollar out of her," he grated. "Listen, I have to go, someone's at the secretary's desk. See you at six."
Emily went to the kitchen and opened up the little drawer where she kept her dish towels. She selected a fabric rectangle of one hundred percent cotton, made in China, as snowy white as Frank's plaster innards. She had all the time in the world.
She returned to the front of the house and Mark's den. Using the towel to grasp the doorknob, she discovered that once again, Dr. Fatzer's home office and hideout was locked. Well, isn't that getting to be quite the little habit. Once again she gathered the set of keys she'd had made and kept secret, and once again, went into his den -- this time with the with the intention of riffling through any papers she could find.
The bookcase yielded nothing. None of the books looked as though they had been moved since they were put on the shelves. They could have been painted on the shelves for as regular as they were. Not a bit of dust was disturbed, not that there was much dust since the last time she'd been in here. The cabinet and dry bar beside the bookcase gave up no clues or items of interest, either. The credenza behind the desk was the next tourist stop.
Emily picked up the blotter with the cloth wrapped around her hand (perhaps the mention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation had inspired her to cover her tracks, to not contaminate evidence with her own fingerprints) and checked its underside. Nothing. She tugged the green felt-surfaced mat from its leather corners and nearly cackled when a piece of paper fell out, fluttering to the floor like one of last autumn's sycamore leaves. Still using the towel, she bent and picked up the heavy paper and turned it over. It was a black and white picture of Marcella Henderson, smiling flirtatiously over her right shoulder, where the strap of her flowered sundress had fallen down to lie loosely against her upper arm.
The dress was memorable. Marcella still had a trim waist and the sundress, with its fitted bodice and billowing calf-length skirt had been greatly admired two summers ago at their annual July barbecue. Emily looked at the photo closely, systematically. The branches of the trees in the background argued for a shot taken in her back yard up on the slope where they always held the catered barbecues, facing the northeast fence line. Though not obvious from the picture, Marcella kept her hair meticulously dyed a honey blondish-brown, streaked with lighter blonde highlights that to Emily's eye always looked as though they could turn greeny with one treatment too many. And while Marcella's glittering eyes in the picture had faint crows' feet, there was no sag to her eyelids. Bet that surgery cost her a pretty penny. The sneer lines from her nose to her mouth were erased by the smile, which was a trade-off, since the smile exposed the obvious repair of bridge-work. Finally Emily noted the smudges of fingerprints on the bottom corners of the glossy photograph. She replaced the photo under the mat, placing it face side against the leather, hoping that the unavoidable humidity would make the leather suck Marcella's face right off the paper. She put the blotter back on the credenza.
That'll teach me to play spy, now won't it? Emily left the den, locking it behind her.
She went to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of the table wine. No, be systematic. She left the wine on the counter and went up the back stairs to re-tape the keys to the back of her desk drawer.
From the freezer she took a bag of frozen pork chops, pounded it against a frozen turkey, and removed from the company of slices two chops. She set them in a dish in the kitchen to begin their thaw. She smiled sweetly at them. "It will be spring for you soon. But oh, the sunburn you'll get when summer settles into the frying pan." She turned away from the counter and picked up the glass.
"God, I'm losing it," she said after a deep swallow of wine. "First I talk to myself, then to a shitty little broken gnome, now I'm talking to pork chops. What's next, a wooden spoon?"
The afternoon sun was warming the patio in its brief winter arc, and the garden glowed green and lush and lovely. All that was missing was broken Frank and Stein from his pedestal and Broken Emily, who had no one in the world to tell about the smudgy picture of Marcella Henderson in her husband's locked room. No one.
She jerked the utensil drawer open so violently that a meatball press flew out and landed on the floor. She scrabbled in the drawer for her favorite wooden spoon, but it tangled with a potato masher and a whisk and the implements came out in a jam of stainless steel and plastic handles wrapped around the wood. Emily was about to choke the wooden spoon and dash the masher and whisk to the tile floor when she came back to herself. This won't do at all. She breathed deeply, relaxed her shoulders, and carefully extricated the whisk from the handle of the wooden spoon, placing it back in the deep drawer. The masher had wedged itself on the bowl of the spoon, in a manner that, had her life depended upon it, Emily could not have naturally managed to copy. She carefully removed that as well, closed the drawer, and turned to the wooden spoon she now held upright in her hand.
She gripped her left hand above her right on the stem of the spoon and shook it. "He has a picture of that damned dirty slut Marcella Henderson hidden in his den!" she screamed. "What the hell is that all about? What the hell is that all about? Is he having an affair with her? I remember that summer! Him and his damned black and white photos and how proud he was of them! He never showed me that one, now did he? What is going on?"
I'm going to give myself a stroke. She took another swallow of the wine, looked out at the beauty of the garden.
There was no crime against nature in her husband having a picture of Marcella Henderson. In his private den. Hidden in the blotter of the credenza of his locked den. And until recently, he didn't even bother to lock the door. What does that tell you? She flicked a finger against the wooden spoon's bowl, that now served as a kind of head to receive her comments. "It tells me that he thought I was too fucking stupid to notice that he was interested in her, and damn, I lived right up to his expectations, didn't I?" She pounded the spoon five times, hard, on the counter. "Are you paying attention? Straighten up! This is why he was merely disgusted when I showed him the aftermath of our party, but shocked into muttering and disbelief when I told him about Marcella and Hairy Ass Marl Bloch. I remember now, him saying over and over again, 'with Marl? I can't believe it, Marl?' Oh, God, please don't let her have given him some kind of clap!"
Tomorrow Number One Task is to make an appointment with the doctor. I don't have any symptoms, but I'm not waiting for that slut's cooties to eat my privates off! Oh, my God, I can't believe this is happening. Emily sagged, thinking she should cry, but her eyes were as dry as the patches of skin on the outside of her forearms. Two thousand three. The year we make contact with the real world I live in. She stared out the kitchen windows at the patio and landscaping, and abruptly let the wooden spoon drop to the counter. She flung open the kitchen door and nearly ran to the northeastern-most edge of the landscaping. There was dirt tossed onto the patio from beneath the bird of paradise plant. Something had been digging there.
The cat the cable guy saw this morning. It has to be. But really, she knew that she had only ever seen that kind of digging before in the forest. In the dell, where her skunk children busily tilled the soil looking for grubs.
Emily brushed the loose soil back under the shrub quickly. Oh, shit.
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