By Karen Singer
Chapter 8 (Part 3 of 3)
The odd thing that Roger noticed about the drive back to his house, was that she seemed to be perfectly pleasant. She sat in the passenger seat while Carol sat in the back. Her main topic of conversations seemed to center around what a beautiful part of the country it was. She loved all the rolling hills and general ruralness of the area. If Roger didn’t know any better, he would have thought she was the most pleasant person on earth.
He drove straight into his garage, but when he went to close the door, she stopped him. “Don’t close it yet, Mr. Brinkley. I’d like a tour.” She turned around to talk to her daughter. “Carol dear, why don’t you go in and watch TV or something while Mr. Brinkley shows me around his house.”
“Yes, Momma,” Carol replied, clearly a disappointed that her mother didn’t want her around just then.
Janice got out of the car at the same time as Carol. Roger took that as a sign that he should do the same. “Your house could use a little work, Mr. Brinkley,” she said as she watched her daughter going inside.
Roger shrugged. “I bought a fixer upper. I’m still working on it.”
Janice led the way out of the garage. “You do have a beautiful lot. Plenty of space. How big is it?”
“Just over two acres.”
“So you have plenty of room to expand if you wanted to?”
He nodded. “Yeah, but the idea was to fix this up and then sell it. Try to make enough to buy another one and then do it again.”
“I see,” she said as she slowly walked further out toward the middle of the front lawn. She finally stopped and turned around to look back at the house. “It needs paint!” she said.
“I haven’t gotten that far yet. Since I’m replacing all the windows as I go, I decided to wait till after I finish the inside before I start on the outside. Besides, it’s been winter!”
“Of course,” she replied. “Why are you replacing the windows?”
“The house not only came with a cheap price tag, it also came with lousy windows and a lead paint problem. The windows included.”
“So that’s why you ripped out all the walls and ceilings too?”
She nodded. “You’re thorough. I like that.”
He was tempted to say thanks, but then he remembered just how wicked this woman was capable of being. She started walking back towards the house and he followed next to her.
“Do you do all the work yourself?” she asked.
“Yeah, it’s kind of my hobby.”
“Nobody helping you?”
He shook his head. “Just me. It takes longer, but I know I’m getting the quality of work that I want.”
She stopped for a moment to look at him. “I noticed how nice the floors look inside. Your work?”
“Yeah. Everything that’s finished is my work.”
“So you pride yourself on your craftsmanship?”
“I guess you could say that.”
“That’s good, Mr. Brinkley. I approve.” She started down the long side of the garage where there were no windows. “Why haven’t you finished it yet?”
Roger grunted. “Money! And time. I’ve only been working on it a little over two years now.”
“You’ll excuse me, Mr. Brinkley, but I’ve had a quick look at your bank accounts. You don’t have much in there.”
He was surprised, but he realized he shouldn’t have been. “Not much for you to steal!” he replied with more than a hint of anger in his voice.
She laughed. “Mr. Brinkley, I’m not interested in your money at all.” Then she corrected herself. “Well… not mostly. I’m afraid we’re going to be needing access to your accounts for another few days until I can make other arrangements. And of course, I’ll be keeping up with all your bills from now on.”
Roger had no idea what she was talking about. Other arrangements? Was she leaving? He could only hope.
Once they reached the back of the garage, she headed straight for his workshop. She hadn’t bothered to look in there before. She reached out and tested the side door, expecting it to be locked. The handle turned and opened to her touch. “Not locked?”
He shrugged, “I don’t think thieves have ever been a problem around here before.”
She walked inside and found the light switch. She spent a few minutes looking around. “You have a lot of tools.”
“I inherited most of them from my father.”
She thought about that for a moment. “So I take it he’s dead?”
“Three years now.”
“And your mother?”
“A few years before him.”
She nodded. “Any other family?”
“No. Not really.”
“And you’ve never married either?”
“I was engaged once, but it didn’t work out.”
“Family is important. Carol is the most precious thing in my life. You have no idea how much pleasure she brings me.”
All Roger could think about was how much misery she had brought him. “Your daughter is a monster!” he replied.
Her voice was shear ice! “I will thank you to never refer to my daughter as a monster again, Mr. Brinkley!”
He made no reply, but his eyes narrowed and they stared at each other as if they were both engaged in as test of wills. He gave up first, knowing that his situation was useless. “Why don’t you just kill me now and get it over with?”
“My dear Mr. Brinkley, I have never killed anyone in my life, and I have no intention of starting now.”
He didn’t believe her. “Isn’t that what they always say, just to get the victim to do what they want? And then they kill him anyway when they’re done with him?”
Her eyes narrowed to mere slits. “Let’s get one thing straight, Mr. Brinkley. I have no use for men at all. As far as I’m concerned, you’re all nothing more than the lowest form of sludge that infests this planet! And don’t think you can win me over by being nice. I’m way past that point. I’ve destroyed more men than you’d want to think about Mr. Brinkley. And most of them still wish they were dead instead! But I have no intention of actually killing you!”
She turned quickly then and left his workshop. It was a moment before he could follow her, closing the door in their wake. She walked all the way back to the house and tried the back door handle. This one didn’t turn. “Do you have the key?” she asked.
Roger hadn’t been carrying his keys for a while now, but they were once again in his pocket since he had driven them home. The door unlocked easily and she led the way inside. She walked right past the washer and dryer and entered the kitchen. “You did a nice job in here,” she noted. I like your choice of appliances.
“Thank you,” he replied. “I figured they would only help the resale value.”
“That they will,” she replied. She went out to the living room where Carol was watching TV. “My first thought when I saw the inside of your house was that it needs a woman’s touch. My thinking hasn’t changed one bit. You’re a terrible decorator, Mr. Brinkley. Terrible!”
Roger was tempted to laugh, and he might have with anybody else. “What can I say? I don’t need very much.”
“You’re going to be very glad of my housekeeping services,” she told him as she headed for the hallway.
The mysterious housekeeper ad. “Why bother with the ad?” he asked.
She stopped and looked at him. “Things have to look… perfect!”
There was more going on here than he knew about. Of that, he had no doubt at all.
She went directly into the master bedroom and looked around. “I’ll expect all your things removed from my room right after dinner, Mr. Brinkley. Everything! I want nothing left in the closet or in the dresser. And check the bathroom too. Nothing of yours belongs here anymore! Understand?”
He didn’t miss her reference to “my room.” And unfortunately, he understood all too clearly what she was implying too. “Yes,” he replied, clearly not happy about the matter. “What am I supposed to do with it all?”
“I don’t care. But it doesn’t belong in here anymore. You can put it all in one of the rooms across the hall if you like.”
“But those rooms aren’t finished! There are no beds, no furniture… not even walls!” he complained. “Where am I supposed to sleep?”
“Have you slept in a bed at all this past week?”
Her icy tone left him no reply at all. She could be seemingly nice at one moment, but then the next… Somehow he doubted that she would be doing any housekeeping work.
She pushed past him and went back out into the hall. She ignored the main bathroom and opened the door to one of the unfinished bedrooms instead. “I need these rooms finished immediately!”
He shook his head. “I don’t have the money!”
She looked at him. “Do you have enough in your account to get started? How about credit?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “My credit is fine. But I’ve been trying to do this without running up my cards. I can’t afford the payments. I do have an account with the building supply store that I can use. But it has to be paid off every month. And like I said, I don’t have that kind of money anymore.”
She looked at him with steel in her eyes again. “I need these rooms finished immediately, Mr. Brinkley. As it turns out, Family Services won’t release Carol to me until they’re ready. The longer you keep my daughter away from me, the more you’re going to suffer. Of that, I can guarantee. And I will turn the screws tighter and tighter and tighter! So I suggest you get busy right now, Mr. Brinkley, and get these rooms finished! And don’t worry about the money. Come next week, I’ll be paying for everything anyway.”
Roger quickly found himself standing openmouthed – but alone, as she immediately turned and walked out. She would be paying for everything? Somehow, he doubted that! He walked up to the stud wall and pounded his fist against one of the boards. He looked around. The smell from his stale urine that had soaked into the floor stank terribly. He’d probably have to replace the subfloor. No, make that he would definitely be replacing the subfloor there.
He wondered if she really was serious about what she had said earlier, that when she was done with him she would leave him alone – or how had she put it? “You can have your miserable life back… what will be left of it.”
Before Roger could get back out of the room again, she returned, this time, she was carrying his cell phone. “Do you know the number for the newspaper office?” she asked. “We’ve got to cancel that ad now that you’ve hired me.”
“I’ve hired you?” he asked sarcastically as he took his phone.
“Of course. And you’ll be paying me a weekly wage too. It will be tiny of course, but you will be paying it.”
Roger only wondered how he would be able to pay it. And hadn’t she just said that she would be paying for everything? Fortunately, he had a good head for numbers and he remembered the newspaper phone number from calling a few days ago. The ad was quickly cancelled, although the woman reminded him that there would be no refund for the days it wouldn’t run now.
He started to hand the phone back to her. “Keep it, Mr. Brinkley. If anyone calls about the ad, well, I’m sure you can handle it properly by now.” She looked around at the unfinished space. “Isn’t there anything you can do tonight to get started on this? At least make a materials list or something? Like I said, I want it done immediately. And I will make your life more and more intolerable the longer it takes.”
Roger looked around. “Yeah, I can make a list. It’s going to take a lot of sheetrock all at once, but that’s really not a problem. I just hope the hoist is available.”
“Yeah. I have to rent a machine to help me get the sheetrock up to the ceiling and hold it in place till I can get it screwed down. I’ll have to see if I can rent one for a few days starting tomorrow. I’m pretty sure I can get them to deliver the sheetrock tomorrow sometime while I’m at school – if you’re going to be here, that is. They won’t just leave sheetrock out in the open though in case it rains. They will leave it in the garage though. My bigger problem is going to be the windows. I have to special order them and that can take up to two weeks.”
“You don’t have two weeks, Mr. Brinkley. And if it takes that long, you’re going to find your life very uncomfortable. And I’m not going to be here tomorrow. I have other things that have to be done. Just leave the windows as they are! You can change them later – after Carol moves in!”
He wasn’t happy about that. If the job was going to get done right, then it should be done right away. “Well, I guess we can just leave the garage door open,” he mused, “and let them leave the sheetrock there. I’ve done that before. But even if I take off from school, it’s going to take me more than a week to do it all.”
“Then be prepared for a miserable life, Mr. Brinkley, because you’re not going to be missing school! There can be no change in what anyone else sees you doing! And like I said, the longer you keep Carol away from me, the worse things are going to be for you – and I guarantee that!”
He threw his hands up. “It’s impossible! I’m only one man!”
“That’s your problem, Mr. Brinkley. I don’t care!” Her tone of her voice changed immediately. “Dinner will be in an hour, Mr. Brinkley. And don’t forget to wash your hands.” She turned around and left him again. He was totally bewildered. Dinner? Was she fixing dinner?
Agent Jacobs didn’t get the message to call Fitch back until it was almost time for him to go home for the day. But he was very glad once he had a chance to talk to the man. Once he hung up the phone again, he hurried over to Forsyth’s office. “Hey Sid,” he said happily as he entered.
“What’s up?” Forsyth asked.
“I just got off the phone with the case worker for Stokley’s daughter. We caught a big break. Stokley took a… get this… a housekeeping job for some guy who lives out in the county not far from where her daughter is right now. And since the guy didn’t have a room that was livable for the daughter yet, the case worker isn’t going to release the daughter to her custody until it is finished.”
“A housekeeping job?” Forsyth asked incredulously. “That’s a far cry from banking!”
Jacobs shrugged. “What bank would hire her now after she’s been in prison?”
“That’s certainly true! So it sounds like we don’t have to hurry quite as fast on this thing.”
Jacobs shook his head. “I disagree. My bet is that she’ll head straight for the money – maybe tomorrow, that is, if she’s not already on her way there today.”
Forsyth thought about that. “Yeah, you’re probably right, but with all that’s going on here right now, it’s going to be a few days before we’ll have time to check on an old case like this.”
Jacobs knew that his partner was right. They had been out most of the day on something big and the next few days looked like they would be tied up with it as well. But Stokley had been a special passion for Jacobs for many years now. There was no way he would let things go very long without getting back to the case.
Roger was a little shocked to realize that Janice really was in the kitchen fixing dinner. And the few times he left the rooms where he was working, he noticed that it was starting to smell pretty good. As he made notes and took measurements, his cell phone suddenly rang. Another person asking about his ad. He quickly disappointed the caller and hung up. When he turned around, he saw Carol in the doorway watching him. She just smiled and left him again. The monster!
A little while later, Carol was back. “Dinner time. And Momma says to make sure you wash your hands!”
“Thank you,” Roger replied as he set his pad and pen down. As he walked out of the unfinished bedroom, the smell of her cooking again hit his nose… a much better smell than the rooms where he had been working. This time, he closed the bedroom door behind him to keep the bad odor away from the rest of the house. A few minutes later, hands freshly washed, he entered the kitchen. His small table was set for three. Everything including napkins and a full setting of silverware at each plate was in place. He saw a glass of milk out for Carol and Mrs. Stokley was just carrying over two freshly filled cups of coffee.
“Have a seat, Mr. Brinkley,” Janice said, nodding her head toward the chair across from her.
Roger sat, his face full of surprise. The food was already out on the plates – fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans. He was beyond surprised. “This looks… amazing!” he finally finished.
“Fried chicken is Carol’s favorite,” she replied. “Mine too, I have to confess.” She saw Roger starting to pick up his knife and fork. “Ah… ah… ah… Mr. Brinkley. We say grace before dinner in this house!”
Grace? This woman? She had to be joking! But she and Carol both bowed their heads as she began saying her short prayer of thanksgiving – adding a few comments about being grateful for being out of prison and back with Carol again. Finally, they both picked up their forks and started eating. Roger did too.
The meal was as good as it looked. Since he lived alone, it was the first time he could remember having such a meal in his own house. He had built the kitchen and installed the appliances, but cooking wasn’t his strong suit. He mostly ate silently as Carol filled her mother in on innocuous school stuff. It all seemed so surreal!
And then his cell phone rang again. “Speaker phone, if you please, Mr. Brinkley,” Janice said.
Roger pulled his phone out and pushed the button. The caller was one who had called yesterday. “Yes, I’m sorry,” he said to the phone. “The ad was supposed to have been pulled but they didn’t do it. The job is no longer available.” He ended the call and saw her smiling at him.
“Very good,” Mr. Brinkley. “Just keep doing that.”
Roger didn’t know what was so important about what he had done, but with a dinner like this in front of him, he really didn’t care.
When dinner seemed to be over, Janice looked straight him. “Have you removed your things from my room yet?”
He shook his head. “Not yet.”
“I suggest you get busy with that right away. Do you have a materials list yet for the work that needs to be done?”
He nodded. “Yeah. It’s going to cost a bit I’m afraid.”
“As soon as you clear out my room, I’d like to go over it with you.” She turned to Carol. “Carol, dear, since Mr. Brinkley is going to be busy, you can wash the dishes.”
“Me?” Carol asked, totally shocked.
Roger was being thrown out of his own room. That’s the only way he could look at it. Some of his things got stuffed into large trash bags to keep things together. He carried everything into the unfinished room directly across the hallway and started piling it all against one of the outer walls. What was he going to do with everything when he started working in here? Over and over again, Mrs. Stokley kept coming in to check on him, making sure he removed every last tiny piece of his life from the master bedroom and bath. Nothing could remain, not the tiniest scrap of paper. Even the bag of diapers that Carol had purchased was removed.
As he finished emptying the closet, she was there behind him with a rag, wiping the shelves clean. As he finished emptying his dresser, she was right behind him, cleaning that too. It was like she was totally erasing his presence from the room. He just hoped she wouldn’t be erasing his presence from the land of the living. There was no telling what the woman was capable of.
His cell phone only rang twice while he was working, and both times he noticed her watching him closely. She made no comments, other than to smile each time he finished.
As soon as Janice was satisfied that the master bedroom was clear of his presence, she sat down with him at the kitchen table to go over the list of things that he needed. She was surprised to see an estimated amount next to each item. And the list was long and complete, right down to the paint he needed. It even included boxes of screws and the rental amount for the hoist he had to have. “This looks most complete,” she noted as she looked over it.
“You said it had to be done fast. The less running I have to do for materials, the faster I can get it done.”
She looked up at him and smiled. “I appreciate that very much, Mr. Brinkley. You just keep thinking that way and things will be much easier on you, I can assure you.”
“But it’s still going to take a few weeks. Especially if I have to be in school every day.”
Her demeanor changed quickly. “Then like I said, be prepared for your life to become more and more miserable!” She looked down at his list. “Why so much for flooring? Wouldn’t it go faster if you just carpeted it?”
“I was trying to make it match the rest of the house.”
“Would carpeting be faster?”
He nodded. “Sure, it would probably save me a day or two, but it would have to be installed by professionals. I don’t have a truck anymore to pick the carpeting up and I can’t do it by myself as well as a team of professionals. And someone would have to be here when it got done.”
“Carpeting, Mr. Brinkley. I’ll be here by then. We want this to go as quickly as possible!”
Roger was trying to reorganize his clothes in his new bedroom when Janice came back to him. “I need your car keys again. I have to take Carol back to the foster home.” He fished the keys out of his pocket and handed them to her. She looked around at the unfinished space. “Isn’t there anything you can be doing tonight to get started on all this?”
Roger shook his head. “Not much.” His eyes fell on the stained area that smelled so badly. That wasn’t going to be pleasant to sleep near. “I guess I could start by cutting the bad patch of floor away. It would probably help the odor in here a lot too.”
“I suggest you get busy then, Mr. Brinkley. Think of it this way, time relates directly to your life. The longer this job takes, the more miserable the rest of your life is going to be.”
Roger shook his head as she walked out of the room. He had no idea what she meant, but one thing he did know however was that one way or another, he was probably going to wind up in prison. And that would definitely be miserable. It was a prospect he still wanted to put off as long as possible!
Janice hugged Carol as she dropped her off back at the foster home. There were tears in her eyes. “Don’t worry dear, I’m doing everything I can to get you out of here as soon as possible.”
“I know you are Momma.”
“And I fully intend on contacting Family Services again tomorrow to see if anything can be done right away.”
“Good!” her daughter replied.
“Now remember, you’ll have to walk to school again tomorrow… probably most days until we can be together again, but I’ll be there for you every day after school.”
“I know, Momma. I just hope it won’t be for long.”
“It won’t be dear... or your math teacher is going to be very miserable indeed!”
Janice could hear the loud screaming of his saw before she even pulled into the garage. Progress, at last! She went directly to the room where he was working. There was a large dark square in the floor that signified a fairly good size hole. He pulled away another piece of board from the hole and threw it into a pile of them. Then he stood up. “That’s the last of it,” he said. “I can’t do anything else till I get the materials to fix it.”
She looked him over. He was dressed in his work clothes – old jeans with a few paint splotches on them, an old long-sleeved flannel shirt, and the ugliest work boots she could imagine. Ugh! She resented this display of increased masculinity in her house. It was something she was going to have to do something about – and soon! A thought occurred to her. “Mr. Brinkley, my daughter told me that she’s been making you wear a brazier under your clothes to work every day. Are you still wearing it?”
He shook his head. “No, I took it off when I changed. The bra straps would have been a major nuisance trying to do this stuff.”
“Were they a major nuisance all day at school?”
“Major! The damn things won’t stay up at all!”
“Please watch your language around me, Mr. Brinkley. I don’t like swearing!”
“Sorry!” he replied with a hint of sarcasm.
“Mr. Brinkley. If the brazier is a major nuisance at school, then I see no reason why it cannot remain a major nuisance here at home too. From now on, when you get back from school, I’ll expect you to leave your brazier in place. I see no reason why you should ever be dressed without one.”
Roger was shocked. “You mean, I have to keep wearing one to school too? Even though Carol is…”
“That’s exactly what I mean, Mr. Brinkley. I see no reason to stop now. Maybe your bra troubles will help remind you of who’s in charge of your life now… namely me… and Carol!”
Roger was clearly upset, but there was nothing he could do about it.
“Now then,” she continued. “Are you finished here?”
“Yeah. Not much more I can do tonight.”
“Then I want you naked as quickly as possible and back in your bathroom. You can chain yourself to the toilet.”
Roger was shocked. “Again?”
Janice only shrugged. “Until you get these rooms finished. After that, I’m sure I won’t have to worry about you anymore.”
Roger was left alone with more questions again. What did she mean by her last statement - she wouldn’t have to worry about him anymore? Was she going to kill him despite what she had said? She just needed him to finish the rooms first?