Read Along: Paradise Palms: Chapter 20
Girlfriend set the basket of laundry by the door and set the soap, dryer sheets, and bag of quarters on top of it. She’d tied up her hair and put on her slippers and was ready to go. All she needed to do was to call Mr. Lopez and Doc Brenner to let them know she wouldn’t be there to clean today. She had too much on her mind to clean their trailers and listen to them babble about their aches and pains and retirement woes. The two of them rarely, if ever, left their trailers. At least Doc Brenner had a ham radio inside his house to keep him occupied all day. All Old Man Lopez, as Sam liked to call him, had was his TV and a subscription to the Playboy channel.
She put the phone to her ear, but before she could dial, a loud bang came from the back yard. She slammed the phone down and ran to the door. Blue had left the patio and hadn’t barked. That was a good sign that she must at least know who was making all the noise. It was Sam.
He’d opened up the shed and had gone inside. Girlfriend came out of the house and went to see what he was up to. His keys still hung from the shed’s lock, so he must’ve been in a hurry. He never just left his keys hanging like that, as he always feared he’d forget them. She pulled the keys from the lock and held them in her hand.
“What are you doing?”
“I need to get the quad out. Do we have a map of the park in the house? I forgot. I know I used to have one. You know, that cartoony kind of map. It’s old and all wrinkled up, but pretty much shows the whole park with the lots numbered.”
“I think so. I don’t think I threw that one away. We also have one that shows the park and the lake. One of your old hunting maps that shows the hunting areas around this part. Do you want that one too?”
Sam had bent over the quad and was pulling up the choke to start it. “Yes, great. Both. Oh, and I need a marker.”
“Sam, what’s going on?”
“I’m doing just like you said I should do. I’m going to find out what happened to Casper and who’s responsible.”
“On your quad?”
Sam stood up and smiled. Not the warm smile he usually had, or the smile he got when he really didn’t understand what Girlfriend was saying to him. This smile was different. It was an ‘I’ve got a secret’ smile.
Sam motioned for Girlfriend to sit on the snowmobile next to him. What he told her, she had difficulty following, let alone believing. He talked about how the woods had changed again. That much she remembered, but he mentioned severed leaves and branches leaving a trail in the woods and how Casper’s body was on the line and about dinosaurs and time machines and how he was going to prove it tonight, he just needed to be ready. He talked fast and with a passion Girlfriend had never seen. She was swept up in his speech and had to do something to help.
“What can I do?”
Sam blinked in confusion. “Nothing.”
“Oh, come on Sam. You’re not the only one involved here. There must be something I can do. I’m not going to let you run off into those woods by yourself. What if you end up like Casper? Then what’ll I do?”
“I’m not going to end up like Casper. I know what I’m getting myself into. Besides, the detective and some lady from a museum will be there. If they believe me that is. This is something I have to do, and if I’m right, I’m not going to put you at risk. Do you understand? I just can’t do that. You have to stay here.”
She’d heard him concerned about things before, but never like this. His aggressive tone bordering on anger made her leery of how to proceed.
“Casper went out there, not knowing what was out there…”
“Casper didn’t go out there of his own will. He was dragged by something. According to Myra, that woman from the museum, it was a dinosaur, a troodon or something like that. I saw the head of one. It’s the biggest lizard I’ve ever seen. If one or more of those dragged Casper out into the woods, they’d have no trouble with you.”
“But you’d be there to protect me, won’t you?”
Sam worked his way out of the shed and held Girlfriend’s arms. “I’m not taking a chance. I’ll have a couple of guns with me, but I don’t know how many of them there are. Myra said something about a possible nest. If she’s right, there could be a lot of them.”
“So why haven’t we seen any inside the trailer park?”
“I don’t know.”
“So how do you know it won’t be safer with you than it will be in the trailer?”
“I don’t, but at least you’ll be hidden away.”
“Is that really what you think of me? Someone delicate to hide away from any possible danger?” She pulled her arms free of Sam. Tears started to well up in her eyes. “I’m not a little porcelain doll that needs to be put away so it doesn’t get broken. I’m fully capable of dealing with anything you are.”
Sam took a deep breath and looked up into the sky. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Then what did you mean? This trailer is part of our life and Casper was my friend too. I know you need to find out what happened, but I’m not letting you sit out there without me and wait for some monster to come by and eat you.”
Sam laughed. “No monster is…”
“How do you know that? You don’t. You’ve taught me how to shoot a gun. I can be there to help too.”
Girlfriend’s heart pounded as Sam stood silently and thought. She couldn’t bear the thought of him putting himself in danger and her sitting by and waiting for him to return. She didn’t mind him out during the day looking for clues to what happened to Casper, but she couldn’t bear the thought of him being in the same danger Casper had been in, and her not knowing what was happening. She had to make him see that.
When Sam finally spoke, his words were slow and deliberate. “You can come, but you’re to listen to me and do exactly as I tell you. If something happens to me, you’re to get back to the trailer as quickly as you can with no questions. Understood?”
He didn’t speak with malice, or condescendingly. She knew he wanted to protect her as much as she wanted to protect him, possibly more.
“Good. If you’re coming with me, you’re going to help me get ready.”
“Fine. I just need to make two phone calls first. If I’m helping you, I can’t be cleaning houses.”
This made Sam laugh, and relieved the tension. “Fine, just hurry up. We’ve got a lot to do and then we need to get some sleep. It’s going to be a long night and I don’t want to be tired.”
Girlfriend turned around and was startled when two people came up the drive. A tall, thin man and a plain-looking woman.
“May I help you?” Girlfriend asked.
“We have some business with Sam.”
“Yeah, I’m here. What do you want, Detective?”
The man stepped forward and handed a map to Sam. “I’ve got a detailed map of the area. I always keep one in my car. Shows topography and streets. This may help you in plotting out the circular area that’s encompassed. Myra is willing to help you.” He looked back at the woman, then back to Sam, who nodded. “I’m going to be getting a generator here. It won’t be easy, but we’ll have light and lots of it.”
“I don’t want light until we know what we’re looking for. We just need to have it standing by and ready.”
“That’s fine. I’ll also have munitions and netting brought in, and a couple extra officers.”
“No. I don’t want any more people put in danger than is necessary.”
“That may be what you want, but we’ll need people.”
“Fine, but they stay in the park and away from us. If we need them you can call them over.”
“Very well,” the detective conceded. “Is there anything else you’ll need?”
“I’ve got everything else I need inside this shed or in my house,” Sam said, looking over the map he’d been handed. “I think I’ve got a better map of the park in the house, but I’ll hang on to this one just in case we need it for later.”
“Very well. I’m going to head back into the office. I’ll leave Myra here with you for now. What time should I return?”
“Well, it happened last night around three in the morning, so come back before midnight. It’s best that we don’t tell anyone what’s going on. That’ll just get everyone all freaked out.”
The detective nodded. “I agree. I’ll be back, then, around midnight, with two officers and all the gear. That should give us ample time to set up and get prepared.”
Sam shook the man’s hand and he left. The woman, who’d been quiet up to that point, stepped forward.
“Sam, I want to apologize for my reactions earlier. This situation isn’t easy to deal with, and I think that what you’re proposing is a sound idea. Let’s get set up and see it actually happen.”
“I’m Girlfriend,” Girlfriend said and extended her hand to Myra.
“Myra. Pleased to meet you.” Myra shook Girlfriend’s hand. “So, where do we start?”
“What can you do?” Sam asked snootily.
“Shut up!” Girlfriend slapped Sam on the arm. He feigned pain and went back into his shed. “Let’s go inside. I need to find a map. You and I can do the mapping while Sam does the manly stuff like getting guns and other things ready.”
Myra’s eyes widened. “Oh, okay.”
Girlfriend smiled. There was something about Myra that she liked, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. She led Myra into the trailer so they could search for the maps of the trailer park that Sam needed. She and Myra could walk and map out the circle for Sam; he obviously had something against Myra and they didn’t need to be in close proximity to each other.