Read Gone in a Flash Online

Authors: Susan Rogers Cooper

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths

Gone in a Flash (3 page)

If all this fal-de-ral with the preacher wasn’t bad enough, I was still reeling from saying goodbye to my grandson, Graham, who’d gone off to college over the weekend. Saying goodbye to the boy was hard – almost as hard as saying goodbye to his daddy twenty-something years ago when he went off to the same college.

If I wasn’t such a strong woman, I might cry.

MONDAY

I was in the kitchen doling out breakfast. It was a typical Monday morning, with the exception that my son was missing. The new school year hadn’t started yet in Black Cat Ridge, but the girls had junior orientation today. They needed to be at the school by nine o’clock, and it was now after eight.

Alicia was already downstairs, eating Fruit Loops and orange juice. A short while later, Bess was down.

‘Whatja eating?’ she asked Alicia, leaning over her shoulder to see. She made a face. ‘Do I have to have cereal?’ she asked me.

‘Of course not. Would you like me to fix you a bagel? I have cream cheese.’

‘Oh, yeah! That sounds good!’ Bess said, crawling up into one of the high stools by the bar that separated the kitchen from the family room.

‘Where’s Megan?’ I asked Bess.

‘In the bathroom. Still,’ Bess said. ‘She’s been in there forty-five minutes. I’m going to have to put my make-up on in the car. I barely got a chance to pee!’

‘Not at the table,’ I said.

Both girls giggled.

I sighed. ‘I didn’t mean don’t pee at the table, I meant—’

But then they were laughing out loud so I just gave up.

The girls finished, grabbed their backpacks full of back-to-school goodness (they’d be getting their assigned lockers today), and headed for the front door. ‘Call up to Megan, please,’ I asked.

Both girls started shouting up the stairs. ‘Meggggggan!’ Bess yelled. ‘We’re leeeeeeaving you!’

‘Megan! Come on! It’s time to go!’ yelled the more mature Alicia. It was hard to believe they were all sixteen.

I packed up the perishables and headed for the back door. Bess and Alicia were already out, heading to the minivan in the garage. I’d campaigned vigorously for a new vehicle last summer, thinking we wouldn’t need the minivan since Graham had a car and would take the girls anywhere they wanted to go. But then Willis reminded me that Graham would be going off to college in the fall and taking his car with him. I was in total denial at that stage. So we compromised. I’d received a very nice book check (I write romance novels and it’s getting pretty lucrative after twenty years), and we decided I could get my Audi R8 Spyder (a silver two-seater to die for) and keep the old but reliable minivan for the girls.

All three had taken driver’s ed during the spring so all three were eligible to drive. We’d have to draw straws every morning to see who drove, or make a schedule or something. But today I was taking them because I was on the refreshment committee for the orientation program. Two more years and no more of this high-school crap, I thought as I started up the car. Megan ran out the door and tried to jump in the shotgun seat but Alicia was already sitting there.

‘Hey! I called shotgun last night!’ Megan yelled.

‘You snooze, you lose!’ Alicia said and stuck her tongue out at Megan.

I was able to suppress my giggle as I handed a granola bar to Megan. I may be cruel, but I’m not mean.

Mr Smith and Mr Jones had been watching from across the street as Willis Pugh left his home in the pickup truck. They followed him back across the Colorado River, which Mr Smith assured Mr Jones was not the same Colorado River as the one in say, Colorado, and to an office building in the town of Codderville.

Pugh parked his truck, got out and walked into the building. He wasn’t carrying the satchel. As soon as he was inside the building, Mr Smith told Mr Jones to go get the satchel from the truck.

Mr Jones got out of the rental car, went up to the pickup truck and looked in the cargo space. There was nothing there. He tried the lid of the silver box that stretched the width of the truck. It was unlocked. Inside were jumper cables, a tool box, a plastic bottle of coolant, a plastic bottle of windshield-wiper juice, and several red rags they sell at auto parts stores. Mr Jones looked up and made eye contact with Mr Smith, then shook his head. Mr Smith waved him back to the rental car.

They said nothing as Mr Smith turned the car around and headed back to Black Cat Ridge.

‘Hey, Mom, what’s that?’ Alicia asked, pointing to the satchel sitting on the console between us.

I glanced down. ‘Oh, that. We found it in the back of the truck.’ I shrugged. ‘Somebody must have gotten confused and put it in the wrong truck. Unfortunately there’s no ID in it, so we can’t return it. I’m taking it to Goodwill later.’

‘Can I have it?’ Alicia said, eyeing the satchel. ‘It looks like one of those old-fashioned house-call doctor bags, ya know? That would be a really cool schoolbag, rather than a backpack like everybody else!’

‘I want it!’ Megan shouted from the next row of seats.

‘Why?’ I asked her, glancing at her face in the rearview mirror.

‘Because she does!’ Megan said, and stuck her tongue out at her sister.

‘You are so childish,’ Alicia said, arms across her chest and looking straight out of the window.

‘Yes, you may have the satchel,’ I told Alicia. ‘Just take the clothes out and put them on the floor, and I’ll take those to Goodwill later.’

‘Thanks!’ she said with a grin, and proceeded to transfer everything from her backpack into the satchel.

‘I think it looks stupid!’ Megan said.

‘Oh, Megan, give it up,’ Bess said.

‘Bite me,’ Megan said.

‘Really?’ Bess said. ‘May I?’

‘Cut it out!’ I said as I pulled into the high-school parking lot. We got out of the minivan and headed into the school, Bess and Megan with their backpacks, Alicia with her satchel, and me with one hundred mini-muffins that I’d bought at the grocery store but put in a basket with every intention of saying they were homemade.

TWO
MONDAY

M
r Smith and Mr Jones watched from across the street as the woman, presumably Mrs Willis Pugh, and her three daughters got out of the minivan and went into the school.

‘That’s it!’ Mr Jones shouted.

‘Not so loud, stupid!’ Mr Smith said. ‘Where?’

‘The second girl!’ Mr Jones thrust his finger toward Alicia. ‘The one with the long brown hair. She’s got the satchel!’

‘OK, so we know they have it. Let’s just wait it out. School hasn’t started yet, right?’

Mr Jones shrugged. ‘I don’t know.’

Mr Smith got out his phone, looked up the school by the name carved into the white rock cornice of the building, and called the number listed. It took four rings, but a frustrated-sounding voice finally said, ‘BlackCatHighhowmayIhelpyouPleasehold.’

Mr Jones looked at Mr Smith. ‘Well?’

Mr Smith gave Mr Jones a disgusted look. ‘I’m on hold.’

‘Yes?’ came the frustrated voice.

‘Are you in session today?’ Mr Smith asked.

‘School starts Wednesday, sir.’

‘What time do they get out today?’ Mr Smith asked.

‘Orientation lasts approximately two and a half hours,’ she said.

‘Thank you,’ Mr Smith said and hung up.

‘My, aren’t we polite?’ Mr Jones said with a smirk.

‘Shut the fuck up,’ Mr Smith said.

I was one of six eleventh-grade mothers at today’s orientation. Tomorrow would be orientation for the seniors, and Wednesday school would start. Basically, one more day without killing my daughters and I’d be home free. I can do it, I can do it, I repeated under my breath, my new mantra. What I might not be able to do was put up with Collette Newberry, this year’s head of the refreshment committee. I’d been an idiot, it seems, when I turned down the ‘honor’ at the end of year last spring. If I’d taken the proffered position of head of the refreshment committee, I would have been able to tell Collette to go … well, do something organic with herself. As it was, I had to shut up and take her crap. And crap it was.

‘We decided at our meeting in July, E.J., to only bring homemade goodies for our children. And healthy ones at that. These,’ she said, handling my basket of mini-muffins, ‘are neither healthy nor homemade.’

I had so many excuses, the first of which was my emotional wreckage at having given away my son to semi-adulthood, but Collette Newberry was not someone who was want to take excuses, nor was I want to give her one. I shrugged and did not reply. She just looked at me hard, then sighed, equally hard.

‘Well,’ she said, ‘I’m so glad to see that everyone else complied with my orders from the summer. Now, if y’all …’

She went on, and I suppose on, but I stopped listening when a voice in my ear said, ‘Orders? She’s giving
orders
?’

I turned to find Lacy Kent, one of my neighbors, sitting behind me. ‘Can we kill her?’ Lacy whispered.

‘You go ahead and I’ll back you up,’ I said.

‘Ha! With your reputation, you’ll hunt me down and turn me in!’ Lacy whispered.

‘Not for killing that bitch!’ I whispered back.

Lacy giggled and sat back, forcing me to once again pay attention to Collette Newberry. ‘So I’ve added a few more occasions when we should bring treats,’ Collette said, ‘other than the usual six – first of year orientation, of course,’ she said with a slight twitter escaping her lips, which I could assume was supposed to be a laugh, ‘Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and end of school. I thought it would be nice to add the Fridays before Monday holidays, and of course teacher work days.’

There was some mumbling but no one said anything loud enough for Collette to assume they were talking to her. That didn’t sit well with me. So I stood up.

‘Excuse me, Collette, but two of those teacher work days, I believe, are for seminars and work sessions at U.T. Are we to follow them to Austin with our baskets of goodies?’

That got more giggles than just Lacy’s.

Collette turned pink around the ears. I was quite proud of myself. ‘No, E.J., of course not. But they’ll gather at the school to carpool, according to my extensive sessions with Vice Principal Mallon, and we thought it would be nice if some of the mothers were there to meet them with coffee and doughnuts. One mother from each class. Can I put you down as the junior class representative?’

I stared at her a full half a minute. She just stared back. Her ears were no longer pink, but I would have bet a donut mine were. ‘Sure,’ I finally said and sat down.

‘Great!’ Collette said, smiling her big, toothy smile. ‘I’ll jot your name down! Oh, and E.J., they need to be at U.T. by eight a.m., so you’ll need to be at the school by six.’

I vowed then and there to try to keep my big mouth shut, already knowing that vow would be shattered before the day was over. What can I say? I have a big mouth.

The kids took a break after an hour and we spread out our refreshments in the cafeteria. I was happy to see that my basket of mini-muffins was empty by the end of break, whereas Collette’s plate of homemade yogurt treats had been pawed, but was basically still pretty much intact.

An hour later the girls found me sitting in the cafeteria talking to Lacy Kent. We’d been able to trash Collette Newberry like the old pros we were, and had gone on to other people we jointly disliked. Say what you will about gossiping, but there’s no better way to bond with another woman than through that time-honored tradition.

My girls and Lacy’s son, Dex, showed up, and Lacy and I hugged.

‘Coffee, my house, Thursday morning?’ I said.

‘I’d be there even if you didn’t invite me,’ Lacy said.

I laughed and turned to my daughters. ‘Where are your backpacks?’ I asked.

‘We got our locker assignments and left them in there, with all our school supplies. Why lug it all back home?’ Bess said.

I shrugged. ‘I hope nobody needs anything before Wednesday,’ I said, leading them out to the car.

The dark blue rental Ford pulled back to the spot across the street from the high school. There were two large Slurpee cups in the cup holders. They could see both the school and the minivan from this vantage point. Finally, after half the junior class had taken their leave, the woman, Mrs Pugh, and her daughters came out of the school.

‘Where’s the bag?’ Mr Smith said. ‘Where’s the fucking bag?’ he screamed.

‘She doesn’t have it,’ Mr Jones said. ‘Look, none of them have the stuff they came in with, ’cept the mom has that basket. I bet they left their backpacks and the satchel inside.’

‘Ya think, dumbshit?’ Mr Smith snarled. Then he sighed. ‘OK, we wait an hour, for everyone to leave, then we break in and find the bag.’

‘I dunno,’ Mr Jones said. ‘That’s an awful big school.’

‘Shut the fuck up,’ Mr Smith said.

We dropped by the Goodwill on our way home, then went straight to the house. We’d barely been back half an hour before all three girls were back downstairs dressed in swimsuits and cover-ups.

‘Can we take the minivan to the pool?’ Bess asked. ‘There’s going to be an impromptu party there in half an hour.’

‘How can that be impromptu?’ I asked.

‘Huh?’ Bess said.

‘Never mind. Sure. Who’s driving?’ I asked.

The three girls all said, ‘Me!’ in unison.

‘Rock, paper, scissors,’ I said.

They did. Megan won.

‘Be careful!’ I cautioned as they piled out the door. ‘Dinner’s at seven! Be back by then.’

No one answered. ‘Do you have your phones?’ Again no one answered. They were already in the minivan.

After they left I looked around my domain. I could clean up the breakfast dishes, wash a couple of loads of laundry, vacuum the living room, or read a book. I settled onto the sofa, my feet on the coffee table, a can of almonds in my lap, ice tea at my side, reading glasses on my nose, and the newest Maggody mystery in my hands.

No one had left the school for thirty minutes, which meant all of the people were probably gone. Mr Smith and Mr Jones left the rental car at the curb across the street from the school, and walked up to the front doors. They were shut, but unlocked. Mr Smith opened the door and walked in, followed by Mr Jones. Then Mr Smith stopped short.

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