Read Along: Paradise Palms: Chapter 3
Girlfriend waited until she heard the patio door close as Sam left. Some days Sam could be a real handful. She just wanted him to take her as seriously as he took his job. Most of the time, she felt as if everything in Sam’s life took a back seat to his job, and she couldn’t understand that. Perhaps that was why he was pushing forty and still hadn’t gotten around to getting married. It wasn’t that he was a bad person — he didn’t smoke, or drink, or do drugs, heck, he hardly ever left the house. Perhaps that’s what frustrated Girlfriend so much. Her family had moved from the Soviet Union when she was a baby and had traveled all over the United States and much of Canada before settling in Minnesota. Sam was contented to live in this trailer park and work on his eighteen by sixty trailer, adding a basement, a patio, an upper-level deck, and a huge storage shed near the woods, for his ‘big boy toys’ like his snowmobile, jet ski, and quad. Toys he’d use, but rarely bring her along.
She’d run these thoughts over and over in her head before, and it always got her down. Now wasn’t the time. She picked up Sam’s towel off the bathroom floor and tossed it into the hamper in the bathroom, certain he hadn’t even seen it when she’d brought it home. He noticed little in the trailer unless it was something relating to work.
“Don’t get yourself down. He’s a good man. You know that.” She had told herself this many times over the seven years she’d been with him, the longest of any girlfriend he’d ever had. She was thirty-five now and didn’t want to hassle Sam about children, or marriage, but when was he going to get around to it? Perhaps she needed to be more up front with him. Perhaps.
Rather than worry about it all, Girlfriend stripped and got into the shower, allowing the first cold blast of water to wake her up fully and relax as the water warmed. Well water was the coldest she’d ever felt and loved the way it made her body feel in that minute before it warmed. She washed her hair, her body, brushed in conditioner, and generally took her time.
She had nothing to do until around noon, when she would pick up the laundry from Pops and Leroy. She did laundry for several retired men in the trailer park, and once a month would do maid service for them. She only charged them a small amount as she and Sam didn’t need much, and it made her feel useful knowing that these men were taken care of. She’d tried to clean Mrs. Jenkins’s trailer once, but with all her cats, it was nearly impossible. Just the smell of all those litter boxes made her eyes water. She wondered if that trailer would ever be clean again, or if it would need to be burned to the ground when Mrs. Jenkins died. Girlfriend shuddered at the thought.
After she put on her black Capri pants and a wine-colored blouse, she sat cross-legged on the bed and opened up her laptop. Her parents never lost their travel bug and, once her father retired, they bought an RV and had traveled everywhere they could. Currently they were somewhere in South America, but still had internet access so she could keep in touch with them. They also had a GPS device attached to their RV that she could use to track them if they were on the move. Some days she wondered how anyone could separate from their parents for such a long time.
As the screen came up, the phone rang. She nearly jumped. She hadn’t been expecting anyone to call. Rarely did anyone call her. Her friend, Patty Kudola, would usually come after her daughter, Ashley, the cutest little eight-year-old you ever saw, caught the bus for school, but never did anyone call her in the morning.
“Girlfriend! Why aren’t you out here?” Patty sounded frantic. Not that it was anything out of the ordinary for Patty to sound frantic, but usually she’d come over and be frantic. Usually going on and on about something one of the residents in the trailer park had done, like leaving the lid off their trashcan and raccoons scattering the trash everywhere. She sounded out of breath, like she had just run somewhere. The phone call caused her more concern than did Patty’s tone.
“Out where? What’s going on? Where are you?”
“There’re cop cars, and fire trucks, and an ambulance. The cops are talking with Sam. I don’t know what’s going on, but everyone is out here except you. Get over here.”
“But I’m not fully dressed yet. I haven’t done my makeup.” Girlfriend almost never left the home without her makeup, but the police were talking to Sam? About what? “Patty, what is going on with Sam?”
“I don’t know. He looks okay, I guess, but just get over here.”
“Where are you?”
“We’re all at the front entrance. You can’t miss everything that’s going on. I think we’re going to be on TV or something. This is really exciting. Come on, get over here Girlfriend!”
The line went dead before she could ask any more questions. She looked dumbly at her laptop. Was Sam alright? The only time an ambulance ever showed up at the trailer park was when one of the residents died, and that hadn’t happened for three years. Who could have passed away? Pops was the oldest in the park, but he was in great health. Could her thinking of Mrs. Jenkins dying have made her pass on?
“No, you’re being stupid.”
She powered off the laptop and pushed it to the foot of the bed. For a moment she thought about picking up the clothes tossed to the floor the night before, about picking up the dishes from dinner, about doing her makeup. She thought about everything she could do except walk out the front door and see what had happened to Sam. Fire trucks? Police? Ambulances? What could be going on? Nothing ever went on at the Paradise Palms. That was part of its charm. Why would something be happening now?
She shook her head and put on her sandals. She’d only find out if she went out there. Her hand trembled as she reached for the door. Could she stand it if something bad had happened to Sam? She couldn’t bear the thought. She hadn’t even kissed him goodbye. Oh, sure, he’d kissed her, but it wasn’t the same.
She grabbed the door knob and pushed the door open. The air felt cold, like she’d need a jacket.
You’re just stalling.
Girlfriend stepped out and noticed that Blue’s food and water dish were empty as usual.
Looking out the patio door she could see all the commotion at the front entrance. Lights flashed and people milled about looking as if they had nothing better to do. In fact, most of them didn’t have anything better to do. If any of them stood in the way of her Sam, there’d be hell to pay.
“Girlfriend! Girlfriend!” Pops yelled down from his crow’s nest.
She stepped out and looked up at him. “Yes!”
He lowered a bucket down. “When you get over there, let me know what’s going on and if I should come over!”
She walked over and looked in the bucket. Sure enough, he’d passed her down a walkie-talkie. She picked it up. It weighed a ton! Depressing the button on the side she said, “Pops, can you hear me?”
“Ten-four. Loud and clear. Now get on over there. Sam looks like he’s in need of moral support. Over.”
She wanted to say, “Then why the hell are you delaying me?” but she bit her tongue. She didn’t want to upset Pops, as he meant well. “I will, Pops.”
She bit her lips as she looked toward the park entrance. It looked as if everyone was there. She swallowed hard and walked, slowly at first, but hurried her pace the more she thought about Sam. Fighting back the tears was difficult, but she would need to be strong if Sam needed her.
She resisted the urge to run. Enough people were there that if anything had gone wrong, they could deal with it, but she lost. She broke into a run, slowed only by the dreaded walkie-talkie. Everyone stood behind yellow police tape all the way back by Mrs. Bilkins’s office. She could see the Sandy Bar and all the vehicles, but couldn’t see Sam.
“What’s going on? Where’s Sam?” Girlfriend asked, trying to control the tremor in her voice. Everyone standing around and talking were in different states of getting ready for the morning. At least all the kids in the park would have caught the school bus and missed this fiasco.
“Just calm down. I’m not sure what’s going on. The police aren’t telling us anything yet. All I know is I’ve never seen Sam look so bad. Something happened. They blocked off everything and the paramedics are in the woods. They said they’d let us know what was going on just as soon as they could. As far as I can tell, they even shut down the highway, redirecting traffic to one side of the road. This is a really big deal.”
“But Sam, is he alright?”
“I’m guessing he is. He’s over there.” Patty pointed to the back of one of the ambulances.
Girlfriend had noticed that three had shown up. Why would they need so many? And all the police cars and fire trucks? It was if they’d brought out all the emergency response people for one incident.
But Sam! He looked white. All his color had drained from his face. He sat on the bumper of the ambulance with a blanket around his slumped shoulders. He didn’t look up. He didn’t even move. Even when the officer standing next to him asked him questions.
She stepped forward.
“Slow down there, lover. The police aren’t letting anyone by,” said Patty, but Girlfriend only heard her voice, she barely registered what was said.
She needed to be by Sam’s side. She pushed past June Sanchez, holding her baby, Jan (short for January). June’s husband, Julio, drove a Peterbilt for the county and left at 4:30 am every morning except Sunday, so he wasn’t here. June clicked her tongue and said something in Spanish to Mr. Van Buren. Who said something to her, but she didn’t hear them. Her sole focus was on Sam. He had to be alright. He looked like he was in shock. She wanted to see the rest of his body under that blanket. She wanted to know nothing had happened to him. She had to know.
Something brushed against her waist.
“Hold on there, Missy,” an officer said. His blue uniform fit snugly on his pudgy frame causing his name tag to tip downward against his fat chest. His name was Rudy Dalrymple. “This is a police matter. We’ll have all this resolved shortly. Just stay behind the line and we’ll let you pass as soon as this is all done.”
“That’s my boyfriend over there, Officer Dalrymple. Please can I go see him?”
The police office looked over at Sam. “Yeah, he’s pretty shook up. He found the…” The officer sucked in a breath. “Look, just stay behind the line. This will all be wrapped up shortly and you can talk to your boyfriend. If we don’t need to take him in for more questioning.”
“Questioning? Regarding what?”
“Ma’am, I can’t talk about that. As soon as everything is clear here, we’ll be around asking questions and letting people know what happened. Until then, just stay behind this line.”
She wanted to run to Sam. Call to him. Anything, just to let him know she was there for him. The police officer didn’t move out of her way and she was certain that he’d quell anything she tried to do.
The walkie-talkie at her side crackled. The officer reached for his radio, but noticed her lifting up hers.
“Girlfriend. Girlfriend. This is Pops. Over.”
She wiped her nose. “Hi Pops.”
“What’s going on? Over.”
“They’re not letting me talk with Sam. I don’t know what’s going on.” She glared at Officer Dalrymple. “I’ll let you know if I hear anything.”
There was a long pause before Pops spoke again. “They’re bringing something out of the woods. I’d say it was a body, except it looks much too short to be a body.”
“Hey!” Officer Dalrymple yelled. “Give me that!”
Girlfriend didn’t know what to do. Pops had to be watching with his telescope like he always was, but everyone should be able to see the men carrying out-
The body? Could Sam have found a body? Who could he have found? And here? At Paradise Palms? Nothing exciting ever happened here. Why now?
Before she could react the officer pulled the radio from her hands and switched it off.
“You can have this back when we’re done here. I think you just earned your boyfriend a trip downtown. Who was on the other end?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. It was Casper Jasper.”
“How’s that possible?”
“Casper Jasper Senior? He’s our neighbor.”
“Oh.” The officer turned the radio back on. “Mr. Jasper. I need you to come to the front of the park please.”
“Who’s this? What for? Over.”
“Sir, I just need you to come over here. I’ll explain everything to you once you’re here. I can’t say this in front of all these people.”
“They’re all my friends. Anything you gonna say you can say in front of them.”
“Sir, this is really not the appropriate means to convey this information.”
The radio stayed dead.