By Karen Singer
Chapter 35 Part 3 of 3
The fact that they had covered the floor with the plastic made everything much easier. Folding the big plastic tarp back up again was actually the most difficult thing they had to do. It was now stuffed into the plastic bucket and was out in the back of the car to take home. They had also cleaned and dusted just about every surface in the house that either of them could remember touching. But that was only a minor concern since these rental cabins got used by so many different people.
Janice had rented the house for an extra day so they would have plenty of time to clean the place up after dropping Halifax off. But with Carol there to help her, the job went quickly and easily. “There,” she said with some satisfaction as she and Carol finally managed to get the ladder back into the car… on top of everything else. “That didn’t take so long.” She checked her watch. It was only a little after lunchtime… although neither she nor Carol had eaten anything since breakfast. “I’d suggest we stop somewhere and get something to eat, but I’m not sure what we’ll find between here and home.”
“There’s always Burger King,” Carol replied.
“But that’s all the way back past the house. It’s not really on the way at all.” She smiled. “It’s not very far to get home from here. I’ll just make us some lunch when we get there.”
Carol wasn’t as thrilled with the idea.
The ride back to Roger’s house was mostly silent as Jennifer drove. None of them quite knew what to say. Roger was simply worried… and glad it was all over with now. But just a short distance from his house, Jennifer thought of something. “Let’s have lunch together like we planned,” she suggested. “I’m sure we can find something that your housekeeper has left around. If not, then we’ll make something.”
Roger didn’t like that idea at all. “Um… I don’t know. What if she’s back already?”
“Who’s the boss?” Stan asked from the backseat. “You or her?”
The truthful answer was definitely her! But that was something that Roger could never tell anyone. “No, I’m the boss,” he replied uncertainly.
“Then what’s the problem?” Stan asked.
“Uh… none I guess,” Roger replied. Like it or not, his friends were about to stay for lunch.
Since the garage door was closed when they got home, he had no way of knowing if Janice had gotten back yet or not. Once out of the car, he led the way to the front door where he had to fish into his purse to get his keys out to unlock the door. The fact that nobody was there to open it for them let him know that Janice and Carol were still gone. He was relieved at that. Now if they would just stay gone – for the rest of his life!
Once inside, Roger headed directly for the kitchen. There was no way he was going to head for his bedroom since Janice now occupied his old bedroom and he didn’t want anyone to know that… or that he didn’t have a bed either. He opened the refrigerator door. “Let’s see what’s in here.”
Jennifer stood back a moment and watched Roger. Normally, the moment she got into her house, if she was wearing heels, she would kick them off. Roger wasn’t doing that. She was tempted to leave hers on because he was, but she suddenly decided her feet hurt and she kicked them off anyway. Much better! Then she went over to stand next to him to stare into the refrigerator while Stan took a seat at the table. She stared into the refrigerator, but there was something else on her mind. “Roger,” she said softly.
“What the heck is going on?”
“What?” Roger asked. “I’m trying to see what Mrs. Stokley left in the fridge!”
“No!” Jennifer replied. “I mean… what’s going on with you?”
“What are you talking about?” Roger asked, suddenly wary.
“Roger, from everything I’ve seen today. You don’t want to be a woman at all!”
“What?” Roger exclaimed. He pursed his lips up angrily and looked back into the refrigerator. “I’m doing it!” he replied determinedly.
“You’re doing it,” Jennifer replied, “but you certainly don’t want to do it?”
Roger was shocked. “Why would you think that?”
“Because of what you’re doing!”
“I’m looking for something we can eat for lunch!”
“No! I mean with everything else!” She backed off a bit so she could explain. “You’re suddenly wearing dresses and stuff… and you’re declaring that you’re becoming a woman… but you haven’t done the least bit of research yet as to what that involves! I would think that if you were really serious about this, then you would have done tons of research already. And I mean tons!”
Roger shook his head and looked back to the open refrigerator again. “I’m doing it!” he said again.
“But you don’t want to do it!” Jennifer argued.
“I’m doing it,” Roger said determinedly once again.
Jennifer was getting exasperated. “Then why the heck haven’t you even looked into finding out what’s involved?”
“I’ve just started,” Roger replied, still looking into the refrigerator. There was no way he could look at her just then. “I haven’t gotten that far yet.”
“Roger… it makes no sense! You can’t go around declaring you’re about to turn yourself into a woman without finding out what you need to do to go about it!”
“I’m working on it,” Roger replied, his head still in the refrigerator. They were interrupted by the sound of the garage door opening. “It sounds like Janice is home,” Roger stated as he looked toward the door that led from the kitchen to the garage. He wasn’t sure if he was glad that Janice was back or not. He didn’t ever want to see Janice again, but right now, he needed a way out of this conversation!
Too many cars! Way too many cars! Janice wasn’t at all glad to see the extra cars parked in the yard as she drove in. She recognized both of the extra vehicles. The small car she knew belonged to Jennifer… the woman who Roger used to love… still loved. And the truck belonged to his nosy friend Stan. She supposed it wasn’t all that inconceivable that Jennifer might still be here since she was sure that Roger had probably just gotten back from church. But what was his meddlesome friend Stan doing here? Wondering about it, she pulled into the garaged and hit the button to close the door behind her.
Leaving everything in the back of the car, she and Carol headed into the house. She was greeted by three people occupying her kitchen… two of them wearing dresses standing in front of her open refrigerator door. “Hello everyone,” she exclaimed, trying her best to put a smile on her face and sound happy. She was glad to see Roger still dressed nicely after church. She wasn’t happy about his two friends being there, but she didn’t let that show.
“Hi, Mrs. Stokley,” Roger replied. “Have a good trip?”
“Yes, thank you. A very good trip.” She looked around. “What’s going on?” she asked, her eyes mostly taking in the still open refrigerator.
“We were just looking for something to make for lunch,” Roger replied.
“Oh!” Janice exclaimed brightly. “Then we got back just in time! I was going to make something for Carol and myself. I’ll just fix something for everyone instead.”
“Are you sure it won’t be any trouble?” Jennifer asked.
“Oh posh, dear,” Janice replied with a wave of her hand. I can just as easily fix for five as I can for two. Now why don’t you all go sit at the table while I make coffee. Is there anyone who doesn’t like pork chops?” She looked around. “Good! I have just enough for all of us.” She turned to her daughter. “Carol dear, will you start the coffee while I get lunch started?” Janice had purposely suggested that they all sit at the table instead of waiting in the living room because she wanted a better idea of what was going on.
Roger, Stan, and Jennifer all sat quietly for a few moments watching Janice and Carol working. Stan finally shook off his mood and turned towards Roger. “Roger,” he said quietly to get his attention.
Roger turned toward his friend… even though he was really wishing just then that Stan wasn’t around. “Yeah?”
“I went fishing yesterday.”
Roger brightened considerably. “Yeah? How was it?”
“I nearly died.”
Roger thought he was joking and chuckled a bit. “What happened?”
“The current got me and nearly carried me into the middle of the river. It was all I could do to make it back to the bank.”
Roger was shocked. “You’re kidding!”
“No. It was that dangerous out there.”
“Geez! You should have been more careful,” Roger admonished.
“What I should have been,” Stan replied, “was with my fishing buddy! I needed someone else out there to watch my back!”
Roger looked away, ashamed and hurt. “Sorry,” he said softly, still not looking at Stan.
“Roger,” Stan tried again. “Are you ever going to go fishing again? I miss having you there.”
Roger shook his head. “I don’t know,” he replied. “Right now, I just don’t know.”
It was Stan’s turn to shake his head. “Whatever happens with you Roger, I just want you to know that I’m going to be there for you. No matter what happens, you’ve been my best friend through a lot of bad shit. I’m not going to abandon you now.”
Roger wanted to thank him for that. But right now, Stan getting that close was far too dangerous for him. “Don’t!” he said softly. “It’s better if you just stay away.”
“I’m not going to do that. I owe you too much,” Stan replied.
Jennifer got up from the table. She didn’t want to hear any more of what was going on between the two men.
Janice had been doing her best to hear what Stan and Roger were saying. She got most of it, and she wasn’t all that happy to hear it. Her listening was interrupted by Jennifer coming over to stand near her.
“Can I help?” Jennifer asked.
“Oh, don’t worry, I’ve got it” Janice said brightly. Carol and I can handle everything just fine. You just go and relax.”
But Jennifer didn’t want to leave. “Have you been to that church that Roger took us to today?”
Janice looked over at her, totally surprised. “Have I been there? I’m the one who introduced Roger to it. I just love it there. Tell me, what did you think of it?”
“It was… different,” Jennifer replied. “Pretty good actually. I was surprised to find that the preacher was a woman. And she spoke… wonderfully!”
“Yes!” Janice exclaimed. “We all just love her. I find her to be particularly… inspirational.”
“She is that,” Jennifer agreed. “Very inspirational.” She watched Janice mixing a batch of instant mashed potatoes. “Um… have you heard the name that they call Roger there?”
Janice smiled slyly, but she didn’t look in Jennifer’s direction. “You mean, Candy?”
“Where did that come from?”
“What does Mr. Brinkley say?” Janice asked uncertainly. She didn’t want to say something that might conflict with whatever story that Roger had already told her.
“All he’ll say about it is that it kind of just happened. I got the feeling he didn’t have much of a say in the matter.”
Janice nodded as she stopped and seemed to look off into the distance. “Candy,” she said, considering the name. “I actually think it’s quite a nice name. What do you think?”
Jennifer shrugged. “I guess it’s okay,” she replied. “It’s just a bit surprising.”
“Why?” Janice asked as she went back to preparing the potatoes. “Candy is a wonderful name as far as I can see.”
“I don’t know,” Jennifer said. “I guess it’s just not one you hear very often.”
Janice looked over at her with a conspiratorial smile on her face. “You know what? I’ve even come up with a new slogan for his business for… after he changes a bit.” She paused just to build the anticipation. “Since he can’t very well call himself a hand man in the future, I’ve changed things around a bit. What do you think of… Candy girl, the handy girl?”
Jennifer couldn’t help but chuckle a bit. “That’s cute!” she exclaimed.
“I thought so,” Janice replied as she went back to work. “I’m thinking of having some business cards made up for him. I think they would be quite useful to his new business.”
“I’m sure they would,” Jennifer agreed light-heartedly. She forced herself to regain her serious composure. “Janice… tell me… what do you think of all this?”
“All what, dear?”
“Roger… becoming a woman.”
Janice stopped working and shrugged. “To be honest, it’s his business, not mine. As long as he’s no danger to me or my daughter, as far as I’m concerned, if that’s what he does with his life, then we should let him. I’m just the housekeeper here… a position I’m very grateful to have. So if that is what Mr. Brinkley does with his life, who am I to stand in his way?”
Too many cars! That was Jacobs’ first thought as he drove past Brinkley’s house. Obviously, Brinkley had friends over. Between the friends and the dog, he was less sure of learning anything at all. He certainly wasn’t going to chance looking into all the windows now. But maybe he could see into a few… if he was really careful – which he intended to be.
Parking his car well past Roger’s house as he had done the last time, he started making his way back on foot. Once again, before coming into sight of the house, he turned and entered the woods where he would be much more out of sight. When the front yard came into view, he took a few moments to study the cars on the lawn – two pickup trucks and a smaller car. He didn’t recognize any of them, but he would definitely make sure he had all the license numbers before he left today.
Still hiding behind the trees, he moved further back toward the house. No sign of the dog he knew had to be there – yet. Taking a chance, he silently hurried from the trees up against the side of the house. Quietly and cautiously, he looked into the window there through the small crack in the curtains. A bedroom. Looked like a girl’s room. That figured. Janice’s daughter’s room.
Worried about the dog, he crept to the back corner of the house to try to get a peek at it. If there were a lot of people in the house, then there was a good chance the dog would be out in the backyard. But he didn’t see the dog. He was instead greeted by the sight of a giant tree that had nearly fallen on the house. Damn! A big one! He was no expert, but he figured that Brinkley had been very lucky the thing hadn’t destroyed his whole house. He looked a bit closer around the yard. No sign of the dog.
He checked the closest windows to where he was… another bedroom. Looked like the master bedroom. He couldn’t tell much though from what little he could see. He moved back to the front corner of the house again and checked to make sure nobody was in sight. He moved on to the next window – no curtains! It was another bedroom though. He saw a dresser and some stuff on the floor, but no bed. But he did see a very large dog cage in the room. A large dog cage that fit with the thick chain he had seen around the tree in the backyard last time. No doubt, there was a big dog in the house!
Another thought crossed his mind. He was betting that this was only a three bedroom house. But there was no bed in this room… and only the big dog cage – which would make it the room they most likely kept the dog in at night. Three people, but only two bedrooms were actually being occupied by them. Brinkley was definitely shacking up with Janice Stokley! That was going to take some time for him to think about!
A sudden noise at the front door sent him dashing back around the side of the house. He heard the front door opening and someone coming out. More than one someone. He heard the short innocuous conversation between a man and a woman, then he heard them getting into their cars. He pulled his cell phone out and set up the camera. Laying on the ground at the front corner, he watched as the small car backed up from the lawn onto the driveway in such a way that the driver would be able to pull out going forward. He quickly took a picture of the back of the car in the brief moment where he could see the license plate. He did the same with the pickup truck a moment later.
He was guessing the remaining truck belonged to Brinkley… the replacement for the battered old car he had chased into Alabama. It wasn’t a new vehicle, but it was a sure sight better than that last old car he had. He also remembered the Cadillac SUV that was most likely in the garage. Without a doubt, he needed to look into Brinkley’s finances. Something was fishy! He could just smell it!
Not wanting to chance being discovered by the dog, he headed back to his car. He had learned more than he figured he would on this trip. Now he needed to process that information and figure out where to go from there. Brinkley was shacking up in bed with Janice… and he just knew there was something wrong with Brinkley’s bank accounts! Plus, he had some license tags to check out. Who were Brinkley’s friends? Or were they Janice’s friends instead? Either way, he was going to check them out – thoroughly!
It was afterwards… after both Jennifer and Stan had gone home. Roger was still dressed as Candy, even though he knew he needed to change so he could do some work on repairing his own house. He fished his wallet out of his purse and carried it into the kitchen were Janice and Carol were still working on the dishes. From his wallet, he pulled a check. “Here,” he said to Janice. “I got the second payment from Mrs. Whittaker yesterday. I’m going to need it to buy the rest of the supplies for their deck though.”
Janice quickly wiped her hands dry with a dish towel and took the check. “Excellent!” she exclaimed. “I’ll see that this gets straight into the bank as soon as possible.”
“I also picked up another quick job. A friend of Rebecca Adkins has a leaky roof. I’ve already been out there and done a temporary patch on it, but I’m going to need to get back to it, probably tomorrow.”
“We have a leaky roof here too,” Janice reminded him.
“I’m just getting ready to change so I can start working on it,” Roger told her. “And I’ve hired a tree service to take care of that tree. They’re supposed to be here Wednesday.”
Janice nodded. “That’s probably a very good idea.”
“It’s just too much tree for me to handle by myself.”
“When you go out to work on the house today, are you working as Candy, or as Roger?” Janice asked.
“I guess it has to be Roger,” he replied. “I can’t very well climb ladders and work on the roof in this dress.”
Janice smiled. “Of course not. But you were prudent enough to buy yourself some very useful jeans if I remember correctly. Why not wear them instead? I’m sure that you have enough clothes now that you can put together something that Candy can wear to work in. And that way, I can leave your dog dish in the cupboard where it will remain out of sight.”
Roger nodded. Eating from the table was much, much preferred. “I’ll do that,” he agreed.
“Candy!” Janice stopped him as he started to turn away.
“Did I hear your friend asking about fishing again?”
Roger nodded. “He tried to go fishing yesterday, but the weather has made the streams much more dangerous. We usually fish together but he was alone this time. The current swept him away and almost killed him.”
Janice nodded thoughtfully, even though half of what she was thinking was that it would have simply been another stupid male out of the way of everyone else in the world. “He keeps asking you to go fishing with him.”
“We used to fish a lot,” Roger agreed. “It’s what we both liked to do the most.”
Janice nodded thoughtfully. “Let me think on it… Candy. Right now, I’m not sure if it would be a good idea for you or not. Let me think on it.”
Was that a possible bit of a bright spot? Roger couldn’t be sure. But he really would like to go fishing… dangerous water or not!