Read Along: Paradise Palms: Chapter 24
Girlfriend ignored the scratches from all the little branches biting into her face and arms. She had to ignore them. Sam had a look in his eye that she’d never seen and if anyone could talk him out of his present mood, she hoped it was her. She knew Doc Brenner well and he was a recluse, not a killer, and he most certainly wasn’t a brilliant man who’d be toying with time travel as Sam thought. He just couldn’t be doing anything like that. Doc Brenner barely spoke. To build something like a time machine on the scale that Sam had thought, he’d need a lot of help. He had almost nothing in the way of equipment in his house.
Could he have something in his basement? He did spend all his time there when she cleaned his house.
No, that was foolish thinking. Doc couldn’t be able to build something like that. She’d know. She just would. She could read people and relate to them in a way Sam couldn’t. Look at how well she’d gotten along with Myra. Sam just called her the museum lady. She was the one who had to push him to go down and help her out of the mud. It wasn’t like he cared if his boots got dirty or something.
He was wrong this time too. Why had she completed that circle? Now Sam would do something stupid and he’d be even further off from his goal of finding out what happened to Casper.
She burst through the woods just as Sam did on his quad. She was behind him and wouldn’t catch him before he made the front door, but she kept running regardless. She had to stop him.
If he’d heard her, he made no motion to stop. With one fluid movement he braked, pulled the key, and hopped over the handlebars and was running to the front door. Girlfriend screamed at him again, but he didn’t slow.
When she rounded the corner of the trailer Sam was pounding on the door. “Open up Doc. You and me need to have a talk.”
Between gasps for breath Girlfriend shouted. “Sam. Stop. You. Can’t. Do. This.”
“Give me one good reason! You saw the map. You know how secretive the old man always is.”
The steps were torture after the run through the woods. She pawed at Sam’s arm. “Don’t do this Sam. Not now. We need to know more first.”
The door opened, Sam grabbed it with his right arm and tried to shake off Girlfriend.
“What’s the meaning of this? Can’t a man take a nap?”
“You can take a dirt nap if you like. What the hell is going on in here?” Sam’s words came out venomously.
“Doc, don’t listen to him. He’s all worked up about something…”
“I’m worked up about time travel, Doc. Got anything you’d like to share with the rest of us?”
“Sam, don’t. Stop.”
“Well Doc? Got anything to say?”
Doc Brenner looked at Girlfriend, his eyes pleading. Sam kept the door open and even leaned in slightly.
“Sam, you need to relax. I won’t speak to you like this.” Doc Brenner, still in his pajamas as he always was, pulled at his scruffy grey beard and retreated further into his darkened trailer. Sam pulled the door open and followed him inside. Girlfriend had to go in as well to mediate. She couldn’t allow Sam to be alone with Doc. Not like this. She looked back, but didn’t see Myra and assumed that she had fallen behind. She couldn’t leave the door open. Enough of Sam’s shouting would leave the trailer as it was. Myra would just have to wait outside until they came out.
Doc had stopped at a small bar in the living room and poured two drinks. He handed one to Sam and offered the other to Girlfriend.
The spacious living room would have looked beautiful if Doc didn’t keep the windows covered up with heavy blinds all the time. The combination of dark carpet and faux wood paneling darkened the room even more. It always felt to Girlfriend that Doc Brenner was in mourning for some reason, but there were no pictures on the walls and no photo albums. He’d always leave her pay in an envelope on the dining table for her with a short ‘Thank you’ note inside.
“Sam, sit down and drink that. I won’t speak with you until you do.
“Sam downed the drink and handed the glass back to Doc before he sat. Doc gave Sam the second glass and shrugged to Girlfriend. She motioned that he didn’t need to pour another.
“So Sam, what’s got you all worked up about time travel?”
“Casper is dead.”
“I had heard about that. Tragic. It really is. He was a good kid. He had a lot of potential,” Doc said, sounding genuinely sad.
“Not a lot of potential when you’re six feet under,” snapped Sam. He downed the second drink. Girlfriend didn’t know what it was, but she’d never seen Sam drink. He had to be terribly worked up to be able to do that. She wondered if it would have the relaxing effect on him that Doc hoped it would.
Doc sat on the couch opposite the chair Sam had sat in and leveled his gaze. “Sam, you don’t know me that well. That being said, I find it quite difficult to grasp what you’re saying and accusing me of.”
Sam, who’d been slightly relaxed, sat upright and on the edge of the chair. “I think you’ve built a time machine and Casper got caught in it and died. I think that same time machine of yours is putting everyone who lives in this trailer park at risk.”
“How do you suppose I managed to do this? I’m a simple man, Sam. Girlfriend can attest to that.”
Girlfriend nodded, but remained silent and watched Sam intently. Any move he would make, she’d have to intercede. She didn’t even want to sit down, so she’d have more time to react. Sam was quick and strong, but he was a beast she could calm. She just hoped that the alcohol he drank wouldn’t get him even more worked up.
“I don’t care. I know it’s you. It has to be you. We traced the circle and it’s your trailer.” Sam pointed aggressively at the floor. “It’s this place that’s in the middle of that circle.”
Girlfriend had to speak up. “Sam, we can’t be certain of that. It’s an old map and it’s a cartoon map. You know how uncertain those can be.”
Sam snarled at her. He actually snarled like a rabid dog. “I don’t care. You’ve told me to follow my gut and my gut says that Doc here is the newest member of this park and strange things didn’t start happening until after he arrived.”
“Strange?” Doc inquired.
“Yeah, strange. Like cats disappearing and dogs disappearing and people dying. No one has ever been murdered here. Nothing like that started until you arrived, Doc. What have you got to say to that?”
Doc had taken off his glasses and sucked thoughtfully on the earpiece. He mulled over Sam’s words for a long time before he finally responded. He sat back, and crossed his legs.
“Sam, I hear what you’re saying, but I’ll have to be honest here, I don’t see what any of that has to do with me? Just because a man moves into a place and keeps to himself doesn’t mean he’s a killer. I feel that next you’re going to accuse me of being a vampire because I always keep my blinds drawn.”
“How do you explain that your trailer is in the middle of the circle?” Sam blurted out.
“What is this circle you’re talking about? I feel you have me at a loss here.”
Sam looked stupidly at Girlfriend.
“I didn’t bring the map. I left it back in the trailer.”
Sam scowled. “We followed a circle in the dirt. That circle cut Casper’s body in half and some dinosaur.”
At the word ‘dinosaur’ Doc’s ears perked up. “Did you really say ‘dinosaur’?”
“Yes. We just found another one cut in half down by the lake at the far end of the circle. I think you know about these dinosaurs. So come on Doc, what’s going on here? If people are dying because of something you’re doing, then I feel we have the right to know.”
Doc set his glasses on a small table next to him and crossed his arms over his chest, looking at the ceiling. “Sam, I think you need to leave. You’ve come into my home with an outrageous story about time travel and dinosaurs and murder. I really don’t need to listen to this.”
Sam sprang from his seat. Girlfriend jumped in front of him. He just yelled over her shoulder, but didn’t try to press past her. “Doc! If I find out you’re doing something and putting the lives of the people I care for at risk, I swear I’ll come back and you won’t like it when I come back here. Do you hear me? Do we have an understanding here?”
“Sam, I assure you that I’ve put no one at risk. You’ve upset me terribly with these stories and accusations. Please, leave. I feel I must lie down now. My heart isn’t what it once was. Excitement doesn’t do me well at all.”
“Happy now?” Girlfriend asked. “Are you happy Sam? You’ve come in here, accused an old man, and made him feel ill. Are you quite happy with yourself?”
All the anger left Sam’s face as he looked at Doc Brenner hold his hand on his chest and take long deep breaths.
“We’ll, um, we’ll just let ourselves out,” Sam said as he reached for the door.
“Please, Sam, do come by when you have more information. I’m worried about what might be happening. I would hate to think of anyone in the park scared or in any danger of any kind. Can you do that for me? Let me know what you find out?”
Sam held his head down. “Yeah, I can do that.”
Girlfriend pushed him on the shoulder to get him out of the trailer. “Doc, I’m so sorry for the intrusion. I’m also sorry I wasn’t able to clean today.”
“It does look as though you have your hands full. Perhaps next week will be better,” Doc Brenner said with a smile.
“It’s a date.” Girlfriend closed the door behind her. Once it was closed she slapped Sam on the back of the head, knocking his hat off as he tried to go down the stairs. “What were you thinking? Going in there half-cocked like that? And then you drink! You? Drink? Are you stupid? Have you gone mental on me?”
He held up his hands to stop her verbal barrage. “Listen, I built this guy’s basement. I also built the basement for Lin Pza Pza too. They both had some pretty exacting specifications for how they wanted their basements laid out.”
“So? What’s your point? A lot of people have basements.”
“So, Lin put in a lot of high tech equipment in her basement. A lot of it.”
“And what does that have to do with Doc?” She pushed Sam to walk back toward the quad and away from Doc’s trailer.
“Well, it only makes sense. I thought this all through as soon as you showed me the map. Doc had to have put equipment in his basement just like Lin had. Nothing strange happened before Doc moved into the park. It’s like a puzzle.”
“With only two pieces? Sam, come on.”
“Think about it! He’s always in his place. No one knows when he’s up or when he’s asleep. He could be doing anything in there.”
“Exactly, he could be doing anything.”
“Did you see his eyes when I said ‘dinosaur’. If that wasn’t an admission of guilt.”
“It wasn’t. I think he was amazed you’d say something so absolutely insane. I mean, really Sam. Doc Brenner is a harmless old man, nothing more. That cartoon map means nothing. If we’re really going to find out who lives in the middle of that circle, we need to measure it, and find the radius and do things like math. That’ll lead us to the middle of the circle.”
Sam looked defeated as he sat down on the quad.
“I’m sorry, Sam. I mean, by your theory, Lin could be the one responsible. At least you know she put a bunch of equipment in her basement.”
Sam’s eyes glazed over as he looked at Lin’s trailer.
“No you don’t. You’re not going to her house to accuse her too.”
Sam blinked and his head wobbled to the side.
Sam fell over and landed on the ground with a dull, lifeless thud.