Read Along: Paradise Palms: Chapter 13
Sam allowed the hot water to run down his head and over his body. He had a really difficult time getting out of bed despite the ringing phone. He knew it was likely Mrs. Bilkins wanting him to get to painting the sign. He felt bad about not getting it done yesterday, but with so little sleep he wasn’t going to be moving very fast to get it done today, either. He just hoped that Girlfriend wasn’t going to answer it. He had a lot of thinking to do, that was the only reason he thought about going and painting the sign. He had to think not only about what’d happened to him, but what he’d said to Girlfriend and how she’d responded. He’d always thought she’d react differently. Even though she said she wanted him to say what was on his mind, he suspected she didn’t really mean it.
He’d even given her an out. He was ready to go and just leave, but it was her that insisted that he stay. Was she just screwing with his head or something? He didn’t want to think she’d be the kind to play games.
Sam turned the water off and heard the phone ringing. “Thank you.” After toweling off and getting dressed he went to the kitchen, following the inviting smells. Girlfriend was there with a plate of pancakes, eggs and sausage. It was then Sam realized he hadn’t eaten yesterday.
“That looks awesome.”
Girlfriend beamed as she set the plates on the small table. She served herself and poured them both juice.
“What did I ever do to deserve someone like you?”
“Shut up and eat. You’ve got work to do.”
“I know, Mrs. Bilkins has been calling all morning. I’m sure she’s desperate to get that sign painted.”
Girlfriend wrinkled up her face. “That’s not what I’m talking about. You need to get into those woods and figure out what happened to Casper.”
“Oh, that. Yeah, I need to do that too. And Waldorf and Statler want me cut their grass again. They said it was all messed up.”
“What?” Sam looked up from his food.
“Do you even remember what we talked about last night?”
“Of course I do.”
“I don’t care what they think they need. No one is going to do anything about what happened to Casper. If you care anything about the people in this trailer park, you need to find out what happened to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Understand? That’s what they need. Not some sign painted or their grass cut.”
“Okay, okay. I just need to talk to Mrs. Bilkins or she’ll have a fit. You know I can’t just let work slide for long. I’ve got to do something.”
Girlfriend chewed angrily, but didn’t say anything.
“Okay, fine. I’m going to eat, talk to Pops, and …”
“Pops isn’t home. I tried calling him and I tried his cell phone, but he’s not home.”
“What? Pops is always home.” Sam felt his appetite disappear and needed to go check on him.
“Eat first,” said Girlfriend before Sam could stand up. “You need your strength.”
“Sit and eat first.”
Sam had a hard time sitting still, but sat. They both ate in silence. He knew his stomach would thank him later. When he was done, Sam got up and grabbed his John Deere hat, but before he left he turned back to Girlfriend.
She smiled and looked down at her plate.
“Why don’t we go out to dinner tonight?”
“Yeah, I think so. We haven’t done anything in a long time. Let’s just plan on it and see where it goes from there.”
“I think that sounds wonderful.”
“Great. In the meantime, I’ve got to find out what the hell is going on around here.”
Sam leaned down and kissed Girlfriend and headed out the door.
Blue didn’t get up when Sam entered the patio. “Don’t worry girl, you take it easy.” He left the door propped open for her to leave when she was ready. She also had a bad night and would probably sleep all day.
At least the smell from the night before was gone from the air. That was at least a pleasant surprise. The fresh air and full stomach both helped Sam think of his direction, he just didn’t have a clue as to where to start. He could ask around, but who?
He started next door at Pops’s place. He had to check and see where the old man had gotten off to. His car was in the driveway, but all the blinds had been pulled shut. Sam ascended the steps and knocked on the door and waited. He didn’t hear any stirring around or anyone say anything. He knocked again.
He heard a muffled, “Fuck off!” from inside.
“I’ll come back later. If you need anything, call Girlfriend and she’ll get it for you.”
At least Sam knew that Pops was alright. In mourning, but alright. He’d, of course, check in later to see if he could do anything. For now he needed to start at the beginning. He’d need to see if Julie was in yet and see if she remembered anything out of the ordinary from the night Casper was killed. She was possibly the last person to see him alive. Hopefully she’d have something to say about that night. He didn’t know if the police, who’d questioned him at length, had even thought about talking with her.
Sam knew Mrs. Jenkins’s voice and it made him cringe. She lived on the other side of the park, so she must be looking for him. He heard the gravel crunch under the tires of her motorized chair. Sam did his best to put on a smile, but he really didn’t want to talk to her. Not today.
“Mrs. Jenkins. How nice to see you this morning.”
“Stuff it,” she said. She was a large woman of questionable favor with the rest of the residents of the park. More than once her cats had been the source of an argument, but her girth and self-proclaimed disability would usually win her those arguments. That and her abrasive nature. “It’s not a nice morning. It’s probably going to rain and I can’t find Fonzie.”
“Fonzie. Oh, geez. One of my cats.”
Mrs. Jenkins had an abundance of cats and each of them she’d named after 70s sitcom characters. Fonzie, now that Sam thought about it, was the black and white tuxedo cat. She also had an orange tom she named Richie. He wondered just how many cats she had.
“I haven’t seen him lately. Maybe he just ran off into the woods or something.”
“Sammie, that’s not the answer I’m looking for. Lenny, Fonzie, Mork and Mindy are all missing. I miss Fonzie the most and he’s been gone the longest. The rest are just eating machines and I’m glad they’re out there in the woods getting a meal for themselves, but Fonzie is old. I’m not sure he can take care of himself.”
“Do you think he maybe wandered off to die? They do that sometimes…”
“Shut your mouth! He was old, but not that old.”
Actually, Fonzie was far older than that and Sam knew that the cat probably had its tail run over one too many times by her rolling chair.
“Well, I’m going to do my daily rounds soon. I’ll keep an eye out for him, Mrs. Jenkins.”
“That’s the dear Sammie I know. Now quit standing here and start looking.”
Sam resisted the urge to knock her chair over. “I will. I’ll let you know if I see Fonzie.”
“Oh, Sammie, what happened to your friend? Everyone keeps asking me if I know, but I don’t. I’d like to be able to tell them. It was Casper, wasn’t it?”
Sam didn’t know how much to divulge. The detective hadn’t told him to keep quiet, but with Pops all broken up, he didn’t feel it was his place to give out too many details.
“Yeah, it was Casper. The police are looking into it.”
“Did they ask you questions?”
“Of course they did. I mean, I found the body. They had to ask me questions.”
“Right, dear. I’m sorry.” Her evil grin said otherwise. She just wanted gossip. He’d been vague enough that she would likely start spreading rumors. He cared, but only a bit. He was going to find out what happened to Casper.
“Well, I’ve got to get at it.”
Mrs. Jenkins didn’t say anything. She didn’t even move. She just sat there and watched him leave. Sam sighed and wished she’d just roll away, preferably off a cliff. Sam stuffed his hands in his pockets and walked to the front of the park.
“Hey, look. It’s Sam the. . .what did you call him?” Waldorf asked Statler.
“I didn’t call him anything. You’re the one who said he was a bum,” retorted Waldorf.
“I didn’t call him a bum. I just said I didn’t think he’d be cutting this grass today.”
“Bum. Guy who won’t cut the grass. What’s the difference?”
The two laughed heartily. Sam wasn’t in the mood for these two to heckle him. He could actually feel his mood darken and he wanted to snap at Waldorf and Statler, but it wasn’t their fault. They were just being themselves. He clenched and unclenched his fists.
“Well, gentlemen, you’re right on one account. I won’t be cutting your grass today. I’m going to find out what happened to my Casper.”
“You owe me five bucks,” Waldorf said as he hit Statler with his cane. “I told you he wasn’t going to cut the grass; now pay up.”
Sam shook his head and walked away from the two old men. He just didn’t have the energy to deal with the two of them today. If he was lucky, he only had one more person to dodge and he’d have an easier time to dodge her.
Fate wasn’t so kind. Mrs. Bilkins stood with her fists on her hips and an ever-present cigarette in her lips. She still wore the same house dress she’d had on the day before, but her short hair was up in curlers.
“Sam! You’re late! I need that sign painted and I need it painted today. Do you understand? I know you’re probably broken up over Pops’ boy and all, but that sign needs to be painted.”
Sam held up a hand to stop her from talking. When she finally stopped spewing instructions about the colors for the sign, Sam said, “I’m taking the day off. In fact, I’m taking the whole week off. I’ve got more important things to do and I need time to think. I’ve never asked you for time off, but today I’m telling you. I need time off.”
Her mouth fell open and the cigarette toppled to the ground. Sam had always taken her verbal abuse and followed her instructions, so he was sure this had to be a shock for her. It felt good. It felt really good. Without waiting for her to gain her wits and respond, Sam walked around her office and toward the Sandy Bar so he could talk with Julie.
The yellow Charger sat parked out front. Julie hadn’t opened yet as there were no other cars and it was far too early. Sam knew the two had been seeing each other for some time and Casper even helped her close from time to time. Someone like Mrs. Jenkins would thrive on delivering bad news, but Sam dreaded the thought of being the first to tell her.
Sam hoped nothing else strange would interrupt his investigation, but the black sedan followed by the light blue Celica pulling into the trailer park’s drive, both unfamiliar, told him otherwise.