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"I’m not saying Abbott Computing Services suffered from an acute form of TV demographics, but, how did I get the job? I wasn’t under forty. I wasn’t anorexic slim. I didn’t have a face that would launch a thousand ships, or even a rowboat. Of course, I was a temp, and the young and beautiful wouldn’t have to look at me forever."
Jo Durbin knows the down-side of acting the homeless bag lady. The police will never suspect one of those beautiful people she works with. Nor will they believe that Jo just happened to find the very dead Francine.
If a woman goes on vacation and leaves keys in her drawer, I say they’re fair game. And her address in the Rolodex on top of her desk? Too easy. But, what the hey. I’d accept any opportunity that came along.
~ * ~
Francine Hemingway’s house was twenty minutes by bus from downtown Queensboro and too far from Chesapeake Bay to advertise waterfront view. The neighborhood had that comfortable, lived-in look with two-story homes, attached garages, well-kept yards, daffodils in neat beds, old shade of oak, maple, and budding dogwoods. Her house was the exception. The grass was sparse under a sweet gum tree, its kamikaze seed pods taking control of the yard. Her bushes were overgrown and much too close to the building for security.
I stood across the street. No traffic. No dogs. No one in sight—until a front door opened and a woman in sweats stepped out, but I was prepared for emergencies. I brought my pencil over the notebook I held and added a doodle or two. The woman ignored me as she stretched, twisted, and jogged in place. I turned a page and doodled some more. Finally, she loped down the street, building speed.
After she disappeared around the corner, I purposefully strode to the house, swinging my new keys. “One’s sure to fit,” I told myself. And one did, although not the first one I tried.
Before I could open the door, a single crunch sounded behind me. A belligerent voice demanded, “Who are you?”
Lord love a duck.
I turned, my face carefully embellished with a smile.
Ms. Jogger, the community snoop, had returned to check on the alien. Not that I was strange. She and I could have been sisters. We were about the same age, and both white bread plain. Her hair had already turned salt and pepper, and she was dressed for running instead of a hard day at the office. Still, that was superficial. She’d want to believe me.
I grasped her hand and pumped vigorously. “It’s a godsend that Mrs. Hemingway has concerned neighbors. It makes my job so much easier.” I waited for the inevitable questions before explaining further. “Just checking for the agency. It’s a service we provide when a client is out of town. In fact, we often place an operator inside the house for a limited time.”
“What agency is that?”
I flashed a card, the one with only my name, Jo Durbin, and my phone number. “Please call if you see anything suspicious.” Would the card satisfy her?
“But where has Mrs. Hemingway gone?”
Where indeed? I palmed the card as I replied. “It’s against agency policy to reveal such matters.”
Her eyes brightened as she formed theories. “How long will she be away?”
That I could answer. “Quite some time. Perhaps a month.”
“It’s not illness in the family, is it?”
“I really can’t tell you more.” I smiled like the stone wall I was and repeated, “Agency policy, you know.”
“Well, okay, then.” She glanced around hesitantly, then walked away.
Just to be sure she didn’t double back, I watched. She turned once with a puzzled glance. I waved and added another doodle to my paper. Finally, she disappeared, and I entered the house.
Inside, the home was more or less what I’d expected from the look of the yard. Some folks walk out of a house, close the door, and forget the mess inside. I couldn’t imagine going on vacation and leaving newspapers and empty shopping bags on the floor, drapes sagging, and a chair smack dab in the middle of the room. And the shoe, forgotten where it dropped.
I’d repay my unknowing hostess—a clean house in exchange for a free room. Plenty to do, but first I plugged in my cellular phone, then pushed the chair into place. The shoe, a blue stiletto, went into my tote bag temporarily. I’d find the mate somewhere.
Norma Huss and her husband live in Pennsylvania. They love to travel, be it on the Erie Canel by trawler, driving to see grandchildren, or commercially to more distant spots on the globe. Norma has had short mysteries published, as well as several short fiction and non-fiction children’s manuscripts. She’s a long-time, active member of both Pennwriters, Inc. and Sisters in Crime.
Book Publisher: Wings ePress
No. of Pages: 327
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